Letter gives family personal insight into Korean War
Like many Canadians still today, there was a time Randy MacKenzie and his sons, Nick and Mathew, know little of the Korean War.
But that changed when Doug MacKenzie, their father and grandfather, wrote a letter detailing his experience as a paratrooper with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in Korea.
The Chatham man wrote the seven-page letter a few years before his death on April 29, 2008, at age 79.
“Other than that, he never talked about it before. Reading this, I can see why,” Randy MacKenzie said of his father’s letter.
MacKenzie said he’s wanted to share his father’s letter over the years and finally decided to do it.
Doug MacKenzie details how the PPCLI became part of the Commonwealth Brigade, fighting alongside British, Australian and New Zealand troops after arriving in Korea in August 1950.
His letter describes an entire English battalion of 1,000 soldiers getting hit on a mountain away from the rest of the troops.
“We could not get to them until the next morning,” he wrote. “It was not a nice sight to see 1,000 bodies lying there dead.”
MacKenzie wrote it could have been the Patricias hit that night. That wasn’t the only large-scale death the Canadian solider saw. MacKenzie’s letter describes the first time his unit’s first call to action — to rescue 68 U.S. drivers stationed not too far away.
“But when we got there, there was 68 dead men,” he said.
His letter describes how the North Koreans came down from the hills to kill the Americans, then steal their boots and weapons.
“We chased those North Korean troops for three weeks,” he wrote. “They were always one or two hills ahead us. We never did catch them.”
After the 1,000 English soldiers were killed, MacKenzie’s letter describes how it seemed the North Koreans let them advance right into their territory.
Everything changed when the Chinese entered the war, he wrote.
“They put on a big push and all the North Korean troops came out of the hills and we had to make a hasty retreat — they nearly pushed us right into the ocean.”
However, when they advanced again, MacKenzie described how they “never left any enemy troops behind us. We made sure the only ones were dead ones.”
In April 1951, the North Korean and Chinese troops started another big push during the Battle of Kapyong, he wrote.
MacKenzie said the PPCLI spent 27 days on the front lines, before being sent back for a five-day rest period.
He described how the Chinese put on another big push as they were replaced by South Korean troops.
MacKenzie wrote that, six hours later, the PPCLI got word enemy troops were pouring through the front line, so they returned to action.
“We fought our way back to the line and stopped the Chinese troops from coming through,” he wrote.
The PPCLI, along with an AustraliabattalionandanAmerican tank company, all received the United States Presidential Unit Citation and Republic of South Korea Presidential Unit Citation for their efforts.
Although the 65th anniversary of the Korean War’s end occurred on July 27, the battle is often overshadowed by the First and Second World Wars. This is despite the fact 26,000 Canadians served on land, at sea and in the air during the conflict from 1950 to 1953.
A total of 516 Canadians died, with some buried in South Korea.
Nick MacKenzie described his grandfather as “the most humble man you’d ever meet, yet according to (his letter), he wielded a gun pretty good.”
The reason for the letter, Randy MacKenzie said, was likely to share his wartime experiences with his family.
“I think he realized his health was catching up to him and he wanted us to know what he went through.”
The letter might have also provided a measure of catharsis, Doug MacKenzie’s grandson suggested.
“Putting it down on pen and paper and getting it out of his head, it could have been relief in some sense,” Nick MacKeznie said.
Randy MacKenzie said his family is “very impressed and proud” of his father’s service.
Randy MacKenzie, centre, and sons Mathew, left, and Nick, show off a tribute to their late father and grandfather, Doug MacKenzie, a Korean War vet.