Monday on History Check listings for time we had at least a Chinese perspective onto what it’s like to fight in Korea.” The battle killed hundreds of Chinese soldiers, and just one of the Canadian defenders. About half of the Canadians were wounded. The incredible story is not widely known, says Kilback, in large part because for many years the general public seemed to express little interest in learning the ugly details of Canada’s third deadliest conflict. “It wasn’t the kind of war like World War II where you came back to parades and victory. There wasn’t a lot in the news ever about it, nobody really ever knew why anybody was fighting there. And it’s such a complicated, political war — there’s no kind of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ it wasn’t easy to define,” Kilback says of the war, which began June 25, 1950, when the military forces of North Korea crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea.
“It really kind of fell off everybody’s radar. So these guys don’t think anybody wants to hear about it. I always find that incredible, that they’ve never spoken about these events before.” More than 26,000 Canadians served in the three-year war, and of those, 516 Canadians died in service, according to Veterans Affairs. Kilback had trouble tracking down survivors from the battle of Song-gok Spur. But he was surprised to suddenly be contacted by Butler, who was a private at the time of the conflict. The Manitoulin Island resident caught wind of the project through the Royal Canadian Regiment and said he had photos to share. “We’re like, ‘Are you crazy? You were there? We need to talk to you!’” says Kilback, who shot the doc’s dramatic recreations at CFB Meaford near Owen Sound, Ont., using actual Canadian soldiers as his actors. “We were about to finish editing the film and then we found him and then I re-edited the film once I found him.” Kilback says it’s important to get these war stories on the record before it’s too late. He notes that fewer and fewer veterans are around to share their experiences, recalling feelings of dismay when tracking down real-life tales for Greatest Tank Battles. “As I would go through production, every couple months I’d get, ‘So-andso’s passed away.’ They pass away constantly now so it’s like those stories are being lost forever.” This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, and the Canadian government has declared 2013 the Year of the Korean War Veteran. Also debuting on History this weekend is the documentary Sector Sarajevo on Sunday, which recounts a brutal Canadian peacekeeping mission to Sarajevo in July 1992. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Canadians were sent into a volatile war zone where they managed to secure the airport and bring in aid. Under constant fire, they endured snipers’ bullets and standoffs with warlords, eventually breaking the rules of peacekeeping by fighting back. Meanwhile, there’s the second season of War Story, which began Friday and continues Saturday, Sunday and Monday. This year, stories include: Canadian servicemen who survived Japanese slave labour camps during the Second World War; Canadian airmen imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp; twin stories of the Vietnam War, told by Canadian volunteer combat veterans and U.S. draft resisters; and first-hand experiences of the Battle of Stalingrad. Other programs on the schedule include Dieppe: Uncovered, D-Day to Victory, Passchendaele, The Great Escape: Secrets Revealed and Storming Juno.
Above, Canadian war veterans Lt. Ed Mastronardi and Pte. Red Butler fought in the battle of Song-gok Spur in 1951; left, even today, Mastronardi has difficultly speaking about the battle, in which his small platoon fought 800 Chinese soldiers as part of the Korean War.