TV special uncovers Canada’s ‘forgotten war’
TORONTO — Before bullets flew, the taunts exploded. “I heard a voice shouting: ‘Canada boy, tonight you die!”’ Korean War veteran Ed Mastronardi says, recalling the night of Nov. 2, 1951, in the new History special 28 Heroes. “And I shouted back: ‘Come and get it! As it turned out it was a full attack. And I had 28 men.” Director Paul Kilback says the battle of Song-gok Spur — which saw a small Canadian platoon fight a battalion of 800 Chinese soldiers — is a littleknown conflict from Canada’s forgotten war that should be recognized. “It always struck me that it’s not in any of the history books,” Kilback says of the extraordinary battle, in which Mastronardi’s unit fought against all odds to maintain a key outpost in the face of repeated Communist attacks. “Even for the people who do know about (the Korean War), Kapyong is the big thing or it’s Hill 355 and never have I seen anything but a paragraph about this action.” Kilback came across the story while working on another documentary about the Korean War that introduced him to Mastronardi. He returned to Mastronardi years later to do 28 Heroes, which creates a moment-by-moment portrait of a relentless assault that haunts the former lieutenant to this day. In the special, the white-haired Ottawa resident pauses as he looks over a tattered sepia-tinged photo he recovered from one of the Chinese soldiers he shot. Depicted are two men in uniform, staring straight into the camera. “I keep it just to remind me,” he says. “There’s two sides to the war.” Although eager to tell his story, Mastronardi seemed to have difficulty relaying that heart-rending anecdote, says Kilback, who spent about four hours with him and three hours with another veteran, Red Butler. “You know, he’s proud of what he did, he’s proud he served his country and he’s a very proud man about being a good soldier and keeping his men alive, but I think he also struggles with the fact that he killed people as part of it,” says Kilback. “It was his job, and he knew it was his job and he did it well, he did it efficiently, but you can tell that he has some regrets in that sense. That these are not just some faceless enemies, ‘This is actually another human being who is there for the same reason I’m there, they’re just protecting their home and their family. And I killed them.’” The documentary includes an interview with Chinese company commander Li Yinjun, who Kilback says was just as eager to share his story. “He was very proud of what he did, he believed in what they were fighting for, he continues to to this day,” says Kilback.
“It’s interesting how different but how the same they can all be. And that’s why we felt it was important that