BROTHER IN ARMS
Korean War veteran started ceremony in that country to honour fallen comrades
Korean War veteran Vince Courtenay, 85, will be in Busan, South Korea, for a Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday he started there in 2007. The Windsor man will be presented with honorary Busan citizenship.
Vince Courtenay had been in the Korean War less than two weeks when a bugler arrived to play the Last Post.
Low-flying aircraft strafing enemy positions flew overhead to support the U.S. marines at the front lines about a kilometre away.
“I’d got some food and was sitting beside a World War II veteran and didn’t know it. I wasn’t even thinking of Nov. 11 to tell the truth and this bugler went up and stood on the high part of the ground and started playing the bugle,” the 85-year-old Windsor veteran recalled Wednesday.
“I said to the guy, ‘What the heck is this?’ and he said, ‘Some day they’ll play that for you.’ ”
That was Remembrance Day 1952.
This Remembrance Day, Courtenay will be back in South Korea for the Turn Toward Busan service, a ceremony he started there in 2007 along with a global observance where veterans around the world turn to face South Korea to remember their fallen comrades on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 a.m. in South Korean time if possible.
Courtenay will be presented with honorary Busan citizenship Monday, which is a rare honour, he said. The city has more than 3.5 million residents.
Near Busan, formerly spelled Pusan, there are about 2,300 servicemen buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, the only United Nations cemetery in the world. Included there are the graves of 378 Canadians.
A total of 516 Canadians died in the Korean War, which saw more than 26,000 Canadians fight from 1950 to 1953 with UN forces after communist North Korea invaded South Korea.
The Korean War was a forgotten war.
“I don’t like to call it that but I guess that’s true. Nobody much cared about it while it was going on,” he said. “Many people didn’t even know there had been a war.”
On his second trip back to South Korea in 1997, Courtenay visited the United Nations cemetery and found the graves of 10 or 11 soldiers he had served with who were killed within days of each other.
“I stood there and I just felt absolutely horrible,” he said of the weathered bronze plaques on the ground. “I knew nobody ever came in there to see them and that was also an element in me getting everybody in different countries to turn towards the UN cemetery and hold a moment of silence for them.”
British veterans had asked about a ceremony at the cemetery and
I knew nobody ever came in there (vets’ cemetery) to see them and that was also an element in me getting everybody in different countries to turn toward the UN cemetery.
Courtenay, who was involved as a consultant, wanted to organize not only a service of remembrance there but ask veterans around the world to hold a minute of silence and turn toward the burial place of their Korean War comrades. The first ceremony was in 2007 with about 700 people, he said.
It expanded as a national ceremony and South Korea pays for part of the airfare and expenses for veterans or descendants of soldiers to fly there for the annual Turn Toward Busan ceremony each year, he said. About 22 nations sent troops and equipment or provided non-combat support to South Korea.
The love the Dutch people hold for Canada and Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War is well known. South Koreans are like that to all the veterans who helped defend their country, he said.
“Everywhere they go, the people are cheering for them and telling them thank you.”
Courtenay has lost count of the number of trips he’s made to South Korea in the last two decades. He helped raise money and design a monument for the Canadian soldiers at the UN cemetery.
The Windsor reservist at Petawawa had just turned 16 when he signed up in 1950. An injury delayed his entry in the war and he served with the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry from October 1952 to 1953.
When he heard the bugler play the Last Post on Remembrance Day/armistice Day 1952, he stood at attention and thought of his father Thomas, a First World War veteran who had just died.
A week later, Courtenay would be walking over the bodies of British soldiers and fighting at the front lines in the second Battle of the Hook. The front lines didn’t change much as casualties continued in what would become known as the war of patrols.
“It was a terrible war.”
Korean War veteran Vince Courtenay, 85, will be in Busan, South Korea, on Remembrance Day for a ceremony he started there in 2007 called Turn Toward Busan.
Vince Courtenay poses in this photo from the Korean War where he served with the Canadian Armed Forces.