‘The for­got­ten war’

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Staff It’s of­ten called Canada’s “for­got­ten war” – fought in a far-off land dur­ing the in­fancy of mass me­dia and long be­fore the In­ter­net age, at a time when the world was try­ing to re­build and put the death and de­struc­tion of the Sec­ond World War, less than a decade ear­lier, be­hind it.

And per­haps that moniker bears out in Glen­garry as well.

Alexan­dria’s ceno­taph bears plaques con­tain­ing the names of lo­cal ser­vice per­son­nel who lost their lives in the two World Wars, but when it comes to the Korean Con­flict, a small brass plate on the mon­u­ment’s south side sim­ply states: “Korea 1950-1953.”

And Lan­caster’s ceno­taph, re­lo­cated, re­fur­bished, and reded­i­cated in 2008, makes no ref­er­ence at all to the lo­cal pres­ence on the Korean Penin­sula more than six decades ago.

The Korean War be­gan on June 25, 1950 when Com­mu­nist North Korean forces launched a full-scale in­va­sion of demo­cratic South Korea.

The next day, the United Na­tions (UN) Se­cu­rity Coun­cil called for an im­me­di­ate end to the hos­til­i­ties and for North Korea to with­draw its troops from the South.

How­ever, the North re­fused to do so, and the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil con­se­quently called on its mem­bers to sup­port the South by form­ing a multi­na­tional force to help re­store peace.

The UN con­tin­gent con­sisted of com­bat forces from 17 coun­tries, spear­headed by South Korea and the U.S., and in­clud­ing oth­ers such as Canada, Aus­tralia, the United Kingdom, Greece, the Netherlands, and the Philip­pines.

Dur­ing the first week of Au­gust, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment an­nounced that it would be send­ing ground troops to fight with the UN con­tin­gent in Korea and cre­ated a brigade-sized Cana­dian Special Army Force, the in­fantry com­po­nent of which con­sisted of the 2nd Bat­tal­ion, Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry (2 PPCLI); the 2nd Bat­tal­ion; the Royal Cana­dian Reg­i­ment (2 RCR) and the 2nd Bat­tal­ion/Royal 22e Rég­i­ment (2 R 22e R), or ‘Van Doos.’

One mem­ber of the 2 PPCLI was Pte. Frank Vil­leneuve of Maxville, who, ac­cord­ing to the Nov. 10, 1950 edi­tion of was the guest of hon­our at a large re­cep­tion at the Maxville Com­mu­nity Hall ear­lier that week.

“Pte. Vil­leneuve is the only rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Maxville and district in the Special Force, and it was with heavy hearts but with much pride that his friends said au revoir and bon voy­age,” re­called the front page story.

Sim­i­lar to what it had done in both the First and Sec­ond World Wars, in­ter­mit­tently pub­lished ‘let­ters from the front’ writ­ten by lo­cal boys fight­ing in Korea.

One such mis­sive, penned by a re­cent re­cruit of the PPCLI Special Force, Pte. James A. Deer of Alexan­dria, ap­peared on the front page of the Jan. 5, 1951 edi­tion of the pa­per.

With a date­line of ‘Some­where in the Pa­cific, De­cem­ber 10th, 1950,’ Pte. Deer, en route to the fight­ing in Korea, re­calls some light-hearted fun with his com­rades in Hawaii.

“We ar­rived at Pearl Har­bour last week...and when we left, a group of hula dancers came down and sang and danced for us,” he wrote to his par­ents.

“They were rather cute. Everybody’s tem­per­a­ture went up 40 de­grees when they started to dance. All matches were taken away from us be­fore the girls ar­rived – just in case of fires start­ing in those (grass) skirts they wear.” The Dec. 28, 1951 is­sue of

stated that Pte. Deer was ex- pected home in time for Christ­mas but had been de­layed in Seat­tle.

How­ever, things worked out a lit­tle bet­ter for “a buddy and fel­low Alexan­drian,” Pte. Leopold O’Con­nor, whose Yule­tide home­com­ing was bit­ter­sweet, as his fa­ther was se­ri­ously ill in a Mon­treal hos­pi­tal when he was granted leave.

story pro­vided the reader with an in­ter­est­ing ac­count of the young soldier’s ex­pe­ri­ences over­seas.

“Pte. O’Con­nor has been away from home some 13 months and though feel­ing fit he shows some- thing of the strain through which he has been,” it noted.

“The three days in April dur­ing which his unit was com­pletely sur­rounded by Chi­nese and cut off from all but air-dropped sup­plies may have added a slightly drawn look to his fea­tures.” Those “three days” dur­ing which the 2 PPCLI, “won a Pres­i­den­tial ci­ta­tion for their firm stand and fight­ing re­turn to the U.N. lines” – is a ref­er­ence to the unit’s stand at Hill 677, also known as the Bat­tle of Kapy­ong, fought be­tween April 22 and 25, 1951. Dur­ing the bat­tle, roughly 700 Cana­dian sol­diers valiantly and suc­cess­fully halted the ad­vance of more than 5,000 Chi­nese in­fantry­men be­tween the late night of April 24 and the morn­ing of April 25.

Ac­cord­ing to Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada, the Cana­dian vic­tory was a turn­ing point in the fight­ing.

“By May 1, the larger Com­mu­nist of­fen­sive had come to a halt. The Korean War soon moved into a new phase as truce ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan in July 1951 and the front lines be­gan to sta­bi­lize,” states the VAC web page ded­i­cated to the Bat­tle of Kapy­ong.

“For the Com­mon­wealth (Aus­tralia, Canada, United Kingdom) con­tin­gent, the re­main­der of the con­flict be­came largely a ‘war of pa­trols,’ with few largescale bat­tles tak­ing place.”

A num­ber of other lo­cal men fought in the Korean War – of­ten re­ferred to as a “po­lice ac­tion” since there was never any for­mal dec­la­ra­tion of war – which ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953 and a re­turn to the sta­tus quo of Com­mu­nist North and demo­cratic South Korea, di­vided by the 38th par­al­lel, which ex­ists to this day.

The only known lo­cal ca­su­alty of the war was Pte. Ray­mond Gag­nier of Alexan­dria.

Pte. Gag­nier, who moved to St. Catharines in the late 1940s where he mar­ried a lo­cal girl and was em­ployed by a sub­sidiary of Gen­eral Mo­tors, suf­fered se­ri­ous shrap­nel wounds to his chest and a leg af­ter fall­ing on a hand grenade in June 1952. A mem­ber of the 2 RCR, he was in­valided home in early 1953, but died in St. Catharines hos­pi­tal that Septem­ber, at the age of 23, fol­low­ing the last of a se­ries of op­er­a­tions he’d un­der­gone since be­ing wounded. Ap­prox­i­mately 26,000 Cana­di­ans fought in the Korean War. More than 1,500 were wounded and 516 were killed.

*Note: On­line sources in­di­cate that a small plaque on the Lan­caster ceno­taph bears the names of nine men from Glen­garry who were killed dur­ing the Korean War. How­ever, in­for­ma­tion from Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada’s Cana­dian Vir­tual War Me­mo­rial and ac­counts from the ar­chives of in­di­cate that these sol­diers were all ca­su­al­ties of World War II. Only Ray­mond Gag­nier’s name is listed on the Cana­dian Vir­tual War Me­mo­rial’s Book of Re­mem­brance page for the Korean War.

For­mer Alexan­drian Ray­mond Gag­nier and his sis­ter, Donella Gag­nier David­son.

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