AT KAPY­ONG, A FOR­GOT­TEN MO­MENT OF CANA­DIAN HERO­ISM

National Post (Latest Edition) - - IDEAS - DAN BJAR­NA­SON Dan Bjar­na­son is a for­mer CBC cor­re­spon­dent and au­thor of Dun­durn Press’s newly pub­lished book, Tri­umph at Kapy­ong.

The 60 th an­niver­sar y of one of this coun­try’s great­est mil­i­tary vic­to­ries is com­ing this Easter week­end. Sadly, it will be lit­tle no­ticed by most Cana­di­ans.

On a hill near Kapy­ong in South Korea, on April 24, 1951, about 700 out­gunned and sur­rounded Cana­di­ans stood off a ma­jor night at­tack by about 5,000 Chinese in­fantry. It re­mains one of the most per­fectly fought de­fen­sive bat­tles in his­tory. Kapy­ong is un­known to most Cana­di­ans; in­deed, the very con­flict it­self is fa­mously called the For­got­ten War.

When North Korea i nvaded in the sum­mer of 1950, an Amer­i­can-led, 20-coun­try United Na­tions force (mi­nus the U.S.S.R. and its satel­lites) was sent to de­fend the South.

Canada, al­ready com­mit­ted to NATO in Europe, did not at first send reg­u­lar troops, but in­stead raised a spe­cial vol­un­teer force specif­i­cally for Korea to serve an 18-month stint. About 27,000 men even­tu­ally served. More than 500 never came home.

The first unit sent was the newly minted 2nd Bat­tal­ion, Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry. In Ot­tawa, the army lead­er­ship felt un­easy with these men. Among the army brass, there was great dis­trust of re­cruits who joined up sim­ply to fight.

In the be­gin­ning, it was a con­flict of move­ment and ma­noeu­vre, but even­tu­ally bogged down into stale­mate and at­tri­tion. The Pa­tri­cias be­came an ag­gres­sive an­tiguer­rilla force and took the fight to the en­emy, leav­ing the roads and go­ing into the hills, sleep­ing with only their blan­kets for weeks at a time.

In mid-April, 1951 the Chinese opened an­other of­fen­sive aimed at the South Korean cap­i­tal city of Seoul, a few miles away. The Pa­tri­cias were quickly rushed to Hill 677, near Kapy­ong, a strate­gic point be­yond which lay the city. The Bri­tish, Aus­tralian and South Korean units along the line were driven back. The Cana­di­ans were alone and cut off. If the Cana­di­ans stood their ground, an­ni­hi­la­tion seemed likely. Yet com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Jim Stone de­ployed his troops, sat back in a chair with ri­fle in hand and said, “Let the bas­tards come.”

For 10 hours, the Cana­di­ans and Chinese fought bru­tal, con­fus­ing bat­tles, some­times hand to hand. The same few de­fen­sive po­si­tions were cap­tured and re­cap­tured by both sides. In the fi­nal at­tack, fear­ing that his unit was about to be over­run, a young lieu­tenant named Mike Levy called down ar­tillery fire on his own po­si­tion. This act of in­cred­i­ble brav­ery was ig­nored by his anti-Semitic su­pe­rior, who vowed “not to award a medal to a Jew.”

The hun­dreds had pre­vailed against the thou­sands. It was a Cana­dian Ther­mopy­lae

The Chinese were driven off. By dawn, the at­tacks had ended. Seoul was saved. The hun­dreds had pre­vailed against the thou­sands. It was a Cana­dian Ther­mopy­lae.

No one knows with any cer­tainty, but as many as 5,000 Chinese may have been killed. In­cred­i­bly, Canada lost but 10. It had been a mas­ter­piece of de­fen­sive fight­ing.

The Kapy­ong Pa­tri­cias re­mained in Korea un­til the fall. The war ground on un­til July, 1953. Other Cana­dian units came and went in ro­ta­tion and fought sim­i­lar bat­tles, some with higher ca­su­al­ties. But it is Kapy­ong that res­onates with stu­dents of the con­flict. Wil­liam John­ston, an his­to­rian with the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence, called those 700 men the most ef­fec­tive fight­ing force in the en­tire war.

But few Cana­di­ans cared. It was not un­til the early 1990s, al­most four decades af­ter war’s end, that Ot­tawa got around to cre­at­ing a vet­er­ans’ ser­vice medal for the Korean cam­paign.

Amer­i­cans paid us more at­ten­tion. For its stand at Kapy­ong, the unit was awarded a Pres­i­den­tial Ci­ta­tion by pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man, the only Cana­dian mil­i­tary unit ever to be so hon­oured. Ot­tawa re­jected the ges­ture be­cause Wash­ing­ton had not asked per­mis­sion first. It took five years be­fore Ot­tawa re­lented.

And fi­nally, in 2003, 50 years af­ter the war’s end, gov­er­nor-gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son, when she learned of the in­jus­tice to Mike Levy, granted him a coat of arms for his val­our at the for­got­ten battle of Kapy­ong.

PPCLI MU­SEUM AND AR­CHIVES

Cana­dian sol­diers, laden down with heavy packs, op­er­ate in the coun­try­side dur­ing the Korean War.

PPCLI MU­SEUM AND AR­CHIVES

Pri­vate Jon Hoskins on pa­trol in Korea in 1951.

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