Unsung Hero of Kapyong is Gone …

You’d never know Hub Gray was a pivotal figure in the battle for Kapyong in Korea. To read his own thrilling account, you’d scarcely know he was even there. But he was.

Hub Gray

Property of Hub Gray

Hub played a central role in saving his battalion. And in later life he fought another battle to get justice for a fellow soldier — another unsung hero —  who was denied recognition for his valour because of anti-Semitism.

Hub Gray died in early November, an unknown hero from the Forgotten War.

Canadians should know this tale.  My friend Bernie Farber is a writer, columnist  and one of Canada’s leading fighters for social-justice. Bernie and I felt the tale of Hub’s fight to right an ugly wrong made a beautiful story. So did the National Post newspaper. They ran our essay in today’s edition. It’s a bargain. You get two tales of heroism in one story. Here’s the link:

A Canadian war hero you’ve never heard of, but should have


Posted in Anti-semitism, Canadian Army, Hub Gray, korean war, military history, PPCLI | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

South Korea: Where Crooked Politicians Go to Jail

Sadly, South Korea is mired in a string of corruption scandals among the highest of the political elite. But happily,  in South Korea the crooks are going to jail.

park geun-hye

In other countries I can think of, such felons would be shot.

Or, they’d get the jump on everyone and shoot their accusers.

Or, they’d be on the midnight flight to Switzerland, their suitcases bulging with hastily-packed cash.

But not in South Korea. There, they investigate. Lay charges. Try the accused. And lock up the guilty. And the country remains a functioning democracy. No firing squads. No coups. No Disappeared Ones. Sounds like what we fought for almost 70 years ago in the Korean War.

Lee Myung-bak, a former president, has just been indicted on a series of graft charges involving ten million dollars in kickbacks from Samsung and other industrial giants. He is the fourth Korean leader to face such charges in the last two decades.

lee myung-bak


The latest South Korean high flyer to get locked up is its first female president, Park Geun-hye. She was convicted earlier this month on 16 charges of bribery, coercion and leaking confidential documents. She was sentenced to 24 years!


The South Koreans are not much into sentimentality when their leaders turn out to be financial gangsters.

It’s shameful of course that the public welfare ever was entrusted to such con artists.

But to its great credit, the South Koreans did not tolerate or cover up the criminality. And no one disappeared into secret police cellars. And no one got shot. Instead, there was law and trials.

Over a half century ago, we helped fight a war to keep communism at bay in South Korea … but also to give democracy a fighting chance. The trip has been long and winding. But  the result is the fourth largest economy in Asia. And a country of laws and courts, not gulags and show trials.

Posted in korean war, Lee Myung-bak, military history, Park Geun-hye | Leave a comment

Moina Michael And Her Wonderful Poppy Brainstorm

This Remembrance Day, spare a moment to remember Moina Michael.


Never heard of her? Shame on you! Next to the Coca Cola logo and Apple’s Apple, this dynamic woman from tiny Good Hope, Georgia (pop. 200) came up with perhaps the most familiar symbol anywhere: the Remembrance Day poppy.

During World War 1 Moina was working at the YMCA in New York to help disabled veterans. Thumbing through an issue of the Ladies Home Journal, she came across John McCrae’s iconic poem In Flanders Fields. Moina  was so moved she bought silk for 25 silk poppies which she distributed among delegates at a YMCA conference. And she took her idea and ran with it. The thrust of her appeal was: funds from poppy sales would go towards disabled veterans.

In 1920, what’s now the American Legion officially adopted Moina’s poppy as a national symbol of remembrance in the U.S. Her idea spread to France … then to the U.K. … and finally to the Commonwealth. Now it’s used in countries as diverse as Albania, Pakistan and Ukraine.

The US issued a postal stamp in her honour years ago.


Hello, Canada Post: lets remember Moina Michael next Remembrance Day and honour her with a stamp of our own.

Allow me to share four poignant memories of my own, this November 11th.

As a television reporter I covered the 75th anniversary of Vimy Ridge in northern France, where Canadian troops stormed an “impregnable” German stronghold in 1917.


I was accompanying surviving veterans (they’ve all since passed on). To pass some time, my cameraman and I popped into a very teeny, one-room school in a very teeny local village, just to look around. The teacher asked who we were. I explained. She explained to the class we were from Canada … and the kids all stood up … spontaneously, … and sang “Oh Canada.” In English. I felt as if I was in a movie.

In Holland, each year school children place flowers on the graves of Canadian soldiers killed during the Liberation in World War 11. During the 1994 anniversary, I asked a teacher how long they’d keep this up. She said: “Forever.”



At a little village in northern France a Canadian Spitfire pilot, William Ferguson, was killed trying to shoot up a German munitions train in 1943.


He’s buried in the local cemetery and they’ve named the town square in his memory. The locals, defying Gestapo orders, all came out for his funeral. Now, each year the villagers still come out to a little ceremony and put flowers on his grave. At a 1994 ceremony, I asked the current mayor (actually, the great grandson of the mayor of the time), why they still did this, year after year after year.


“Because,” he told me. “This young man came all the way across the world to help free us and we don’t want him to think we are ungrateful.”

Kapyong in Korea was Canada’s most famous battle in the so-called forgotten war.  I interviewed a survivor, Bob Menard,  who went out to collect the bodies of the Canadian dead, killed when their foxholes were overrun by hundreds of Chinese soldiers. He discovered that none died alone. They went down in little groups of two. Menard told me: “They were all found, two together. They were defending each other to the end.”



I don’t know if November 11th is heart-breaking or heart-stirring.


Now when I reflect on such stories, I also remember the poppy brainstorm of Moina Michael from tiny Good Hope, Georgia.




Posted in korean war, legion, military history, moina michael, poppy, remembrance | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

General MacArthur, where are you?…

History may not repeat itself, as Mark Twain famously noted, but sometimes it rhymes.

Nervous eyes are now on China and North Korea. And this is where the rhyming comes in. We’ve been here before:

KW AG June 29 1950Almost seven decades ago, the UN – Canada included – got embroiled in a war on the Korean peninsula against a peanut little tyranny … something that started out as small and containable; but somehow musroomed into a furious firestorm that became a far bloodier mess than Vietnam 15 years later.


US Marine Capt. Francis “Ike” Fenton glowering in despair as he is told that his company is almost out of ammunition as they try to hold off a heavy counter-attack by North Korean forces in the Naktong River area.

American-led UN forces fought to protect South Korea against an invasion from the North, and then from the Chinese. But initially our troops were almost pushed into the sea.


No one had taken  the North Korean army seriously. And everyone underestimated China’s determination not to let North Korea go under.

Two main factors seem to account for the near-debacle: A) Bad intelligence about what the Chinese were likely to do; and B) Unforgivable over-confidence of what we were able to do.

General Douglas MacArthur was the brilliant and insufferably arrogant supreme commander of all UN forces. “There is no substitute for victory,” was his mantra.


At Inchon he masterminded a stunning counter-attack that stopped the North Koreans cold,  and then pushed on up to the border with China. He ignored Intelligence that Chinese forces were beginning to appear. This, despite hints the Chinese were dropping via Indian diplomats that they at some point would react with a fury if they felt they were about to be invaded.

And in the hubris department: No one in the American high command believed the Chinese and North Koreans could field highly-motivated, tough combat troops seasoned by years of fighting the Japanese. MacArthur was replaced, and UN forces held on and fought the war to a tie, preserving an independent South Korea. But it was very close.

This is where history’s rhymes start to kick in. It would be foolish today to let our contempt for North Korea’s clown-like leader morph into misplaced contempt for the toughness of his army.


And it would be unwise not to anticipate China’s violent response if North Korea was de-stabilized, or attacked.

This is no time for the impusive new Trump team in Washington with a reputation for not thinking things through, to rashly launch some new military initiative in Asia. In the past, this has ended badly, when no one asked: “Now what?”  This requires reflection and calculation, not rashness.

General MacArthur’s arrogance ruined his career. He was eventually fired by President Truman. But he was ironically a thoughful warrior, with a deep sense of history.


After Korea, in his twilight years, the old soldier warned Lyndon Johnson about Viet Nam: “Anyone who gets involved in a land war in Asia should have his head examined.”

General, your nation needs you now.


Posted in Canadian Army, Donald Trmp, Donald Trump, Douglas MacArthur, korean war, military history | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

66 Years Ago … Canada’s Korean War Begins …

It was going to be a miserable Christmas.

Sixty-six years ago this month the geriatric rust bucket USS Private Joe P. Martinez puffed and wheezed and gasped its way to dockside in Pusan harbour.

uss martinez

USS Joseph Martinez

It had been a wretched voyage. On the trip across the Pacific, the dazed passengers had been convinced they were headed straight for the bottom. Even the captain had been seasick. The food was putrid and of dubious origin.

Pusan itself was a smoldering, rotting nightmare. An aroma of decay had been picked up while the Martinez was still miles at sea. Bodies were floating in Pusan harbor. The landscape was a vista of ruined buildings, wrecked vehicles, rubble, decaying garbage, dead dogs, tin shacks, and orphaned kids in rags.

Smiley Douglas, who till now had never been away from his home in Elnora Alberta, took it all philosophically: “The ship wasn’t so bad. What the hell, it didn’t sink. It was the only holiday I’ve ever had on the ocean.”

Incongruously, on the dock a US Army band greeted the passengers with: “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked A Cake.”

Then, unsteady on their feet after stormy weeks at sea, the passengers began disembarking. The Canadians had arrived at their war. It was December 18th. By April they’d be surrounded by thousands of Chinese on a lonely hill, and fighting for their lives.


Kapyong Mike Levy on patrol2PPCLI patrol, just before Kapyong / Photo by Hub Gray

There were about 700 of these new arrivals … all volunteers. They were members of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI), a special unit specifically formed to help defend South Korea which had been invaded by the North the past summer.

They were arguably the most effective soldiers Canada sent to the Korean War which would rage on for another two and a half years.

Aside from some of the senior NCOs and officers, most were total amateurs: cab drivers, insurance salesmen, farm boys, guys on the run from doomed marriages or sad love affairs, and some were kids just out of high school. They had absolutely no intention of becoming full-time, professional soldiers. They’d missed World War 2 … and Korea was their next chance at excitement.

Their favorite song started with the refrain: “We’re untrained bums. We’re from the slums.”

2PPCLI patrol about 2 weeks after Kapyong. Photo by Hub Gray

2PPCLI patrol about 2 weeks after Kapyong. Photo by Hub Gray 

Their remarkable commander, Lt-Col Jim Stone, a distinguished combat veteran who’d fought in Italy, and no sentimentalist, said of his soldiers: “They were just a wonderful group of men … I believed in them and they believed in each other. Non-professional, half-trained, they were the flesh and blood of battle.”

After a few months of intense training, they became skilled at anti-guerrilla warfare. By April the Chinese launched a huge offensive, the Patricias found themselves on a hilltop near a village called Kapyong, surrounded and cut off. If Kapyong fell, the Chinese could press on to capture the South Korean capital, Seoul. But Kapyong did not fall.


2PPCLI patrol about the time of  Kapyong / Archives Canada

The Patricias held on, repelled the Chinese mass attack, and, it is argued, saved Seoul. Five soldiers (including Smiley Douglas and Jim Stone) were decorated for heroism. The unit received a Presidential Unit Citation from President Truman, the only Canadians so honoured until the Afghan war.

The soldiers took it in stride. Don Hibbs said of Kapyong: “Hell it was just one more god-damned hill in a country full of god-damned hills”

The Patricias’ march to Kapyong began sixty six years ago, on  December 1951, just before Christmas, when the Martinez docked. Few of these heroes are still with us. The senior NCOs and officers have passed away. The remaining private soldiers and junior officers are now in their 80s or 90s.

Smiley Douglas, who lost a hand trying to dispose of a hand grenade that landed among his buddies, still lives on his Alberta farm, as un-put-down-ably cheerful still, as he was back then.

2PPCLI –formed and sent off to Korea as an emergency fire brigade — still exists, much honoured and based in Shilo, Manitoba. It served with distinction in Afghanistan and generations later, its current members still wear the blue Presidential shoulder patch.

2ppcli flash

Sadly, outside the military, few Canadians today are aware of or care about our Forgotten War in Korea, let alone the magnificent stand made by our gallant amateurs at Kapyong.

And finally, the poor, much maligned Martinez that carried the Patricias off to their war, was mothballed by the US Navy, and then eventually scrapped in 1971. It was an unlamented passing.

Posted in korean war, PPCLI | 4 Comments

Hello, Mr Trump: Here’s A Remembrance Day Reminder

Among the many curious positions Donald Trump staked out during the campaign marathon that’s just ended: South Korea is getting a free ride … that it pays nothing for its own defence. It’s outrageous, he charges, that South Korea freeloads from the American taxpayer.

He’s half-right. It would be outrageous. If it were true. But it’s not.

This tiny country, coping with a maniacal neighbour that wants to destroy it, in fact contributes hundreds of millions of dollars each year to help pay for American troops on its soil, and also maintains a tough half-million strong army of its own.

Canada’s honour is at stake here. Six decades ago, we sacrificed more than 500 killed to defend the fledgling little republic as it fought for its life and eventually matured into a vibrant democracy (and please note, USA: with a woman president). This was a worthy and noble endeavour and when Mr Trump implies South Korea is an unworthy,  freeloading deadbeat, then Canadians should feel affronted.

November 11th is a good day to contemplate this. It’s to be hoped Mr. Trump, the President will be more gracious and better informed than Mr. Trump, the Candidate.

I touched on this in an earlier blog … here’s the full version:



Posted in Donald Trmp, Donald Trump, korean war | Leave a comment

Trump’s South Korean Untruths

Korean War veterans should have steam boiling out of their ears when they hear some of the odd ideas coming from the hyper-ventilating Donald Trump.


He claims – based on God-knows what – that America is getting ripped off — that South Korea is getting a free ride. He shouts that in return for the 25,000 American troops still based there, more than six decades after the end of fighting: “They don’t pay us. We get practically nothing.”

Without a blush he keeps repeating this, ah   …. untruth.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning website “Politifact” has now nailed his pelt to the wall.

South Korea in fact pays tens of million of dollars each year to the U.S. to help cover the costs of the American troops based in their country … $866 Million in 2014 alone, and it could grow by 4 per cent annually through the next few years.

One calculation estimates South Korea picks up the tab for around a third of the US total costs to protect their tiny country.

In addition, the Koreans maintain a tough army of a half million men … plus reservists.

This is hardly anywhere close to Trump’s “nothing.” American military backing is substantial, but the Koreans are hardly freeloaders.

Canada has a stake in defending the honor of the South Koreans. The families of the more than 500 Canadian soldiers who were killed protecting South Korean independence should not think our men died for an unworthy cause or an ungrateful nation.


South Korean troops,Spring 1953 (AP)

South Koreans have shown they’re prepared to fight and die for their country. Almost 1,000,000 of them were killed in action fending off the communists.

The national armies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and in the Syrian “opposition” should be half as effective, dedicated and heroic in fighting for their countries as have been the South Koreans.

And the South Koreans have ended up – after an admittedly long slog — with a functioning, vibrant democracy – with a woman president, incidentally.

They are hardly the welfare deadbeats and ingrates implied in Trump’s slander.

Here’s the Politifact website:


It’s none of Canada’s business who is the next President of the U.S. But it is Canada’s business when an old and valiant ally is insulted.


Posted in Donald Trump, korean war, military history | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

War Heroes as Anti-Semitic Targets


Tibor Rubin could be the poster boy candidate for all immigrants, anywhere. He embraced his adopted country  with a devotion right out of the U.S. national anthem: to him America literally was  the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

He died December 5th, at 86.



tibor rubin.png



Tibor was a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who made his way to the US after the World War Two … joined the American Army when the Korean War broke out … and became a real-life, certified war hero.

Well, not quite certified.

Despite his valour  on the battlefield and later as a POW; despite recommendations four separate times for a Medal of Honor; despite praise from his fellow GI’s … despite all this, Rubin didn’t get his medal. He was Jewish. A superior who was an anti-Semite stonewalled the paperwork and Tibor’s valour went unrecognized for decades because of his religion.

In the early 1990s, the US Army came to grips with this outrageous injustice, opened an inquiry (other GIs were also affected) and in 2005 at a White House ceremony President George W.Bush awarded Tibor Rubin his much-delayed Medal of Honor.

It was a grand moment and a tribute to a nation’s ability to self-correct its misdeeds.

But before we Canadians get too smug about being so morally superior, Canada too has had at least one such Tibor Rubin moment. And in the same war.

Mike Levy was the son of a geologist who worked for an oil company in China.

Mike and his parents were interned by the Japanese in Shanghai when war broke out. He escaped, and assisted by guerrillas made his way through occupied China, was flown over the Himalayas  by the Americans to India where (at 18), joined the secretive, blow-things-up group called  Special Operations Executive and was parachuted behind the lines  into Burma. He specialized in harrowing  sabotage and ambush  missions. One report in his file says he “led his guerrillas with flying colours.”

Levy ended up in Canada, and joined this country’s first unit to see combat in Korea, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI).

Lt Michael Levy - Korea April 14, 1951

Mike Levy with captured Chinese submachine gun / Photo by Hub Gray

In their first battle, in April 1951, near a nowhere village called Kapyong 2PPCLI, surrounded and outnumbered, beat back a Chinese mass attack and helped save the South Korean capital, Seoul. Levy’s platoon was clinging to an isolated position and in danger of going under. In desperation, he called in artillery fire on his own foxholes and the Chinese were driven off.

The Battalion was awarded a U.S. Presidential Citation for its stand at Kapyong. And five soldiers were (rightly) decorated for bravery that night. But not Levy.

It was a mystery. Everyone in the battle knew that Levy’s desperate heroism probably helped save the battalion. Years later, another soldier who was at Kapyong that night, Hub Gray, tracked down a member of the unit’s Intelligence section. He told Gray he’d overheard the commander, Col. Jim Stone (a brilliant combat leader and an authentic war hero himself), declare privately:

“I will not award a medal to a Jew.”

Gray fought for years to get recognition for Levy. Finally in 2003, the then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, took up the cause and awarded Levy a coat of arms for his heroism at Kapyong a half century before. (At the time of the battle, she was a 12-year-old school girl. Today, she is the Patricias Colonel-in-Chief). Levy stayed in the Army, and died in 2007, after a highly successful military career.

We’ll never know now how many other unknown Rubins or Levys went unhonoured, thanks to bigotry. It’s hard to imagine that in today’s universe the injustices to such heroes could be remotely possible. Then was then; and now is now. We hope.

But at a time when immigration and religion have become topics so toxic and flammable in some quarters in both America and Canada it’s helpful to reflect that where you were born, or what faith you follow (or don’t follow), should matter not one iota.

The patriotism and heroism of a Rubin or a Levy are not the stuff of religion or origin. Their qualities spring from character. It’s all that matters. Or all that should matter. Something to contemplate in a season that revolves so much around sentiments of harmony and community.

Kapyong Hub Gray photo Lt Mike Levy 10 Pl 2PPCLI.JPG

Mike Levy / Photo by Hub Gray

Posted in Anti-semitism, Canadian Army, korean war, PPCLI | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mapping Canada’s War Dead

Map journalism? Who’d have guessed  that maps could be such a fascinating way to paint a picture of Canada at war?

Who’d have thought a television network could convey drama and danger and heartbreak … and all without a single reporter or an anchor or sound bites?

Good for  Global Television — the youngest of Canada’s three major networks — for pulling off this triumph; of using their web site in an imaginative and fascinating project to examine our war dead. It’s terrific, innovative story telling.

Global News website

Global News website


Photos include Canadian dead, some banned from publication at the time …

From Global News website

From Global News website


And maps and charts … the idea is to show  the hometowns of those killed in both World Wars and in Korea, and also examine deaths for specific cities, month by month.

Here are Ontario’s dead, from Korea …

Global News website

Global News website


There are still some mysteries … the hometowns of 42 of the dead remain unknown. But here are the known homes of  Toronto’s 6,000 dead from three wars.

Global News website

Global News website


Click on a poppy and the name and home address pop up … this is for Lorne Mooney from Brandon, Manitoba, killed after his unit (2PPCLI — Canada’s first infantry unit in the Korean War) had been in combat only a couple of weeks.

Global News website

Global News website


If you click on an additional link, you go to Veterans Affairs profiles … this is for Alex Gray from Ottawa … he was killed in Korea only three months before the war ended.

Alex Gray / Veterans Affairs Canada

Alex Gray / Veterans Affairs Canada


Gray’s sister, Ruth, was the close childhood friend of a  fellow teenager, Adrienne Clarkson, who would go on to become, among many other things, Canada’s 26th Governor General. She later wrote that “Alex was a grand young man and we worshipped him … he will always be for me, the living embodiment of a spirit of gallantry. ”

Alex Gray / Veterans Affairs Canada

Alex Gray / Veterans Affairs Canada


This Global website beckons us to names and faces; reminding us they all had mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and girl friends and wives and school chums. And lived in homes like ours, just down the street. All those thousands of Lorne Mooneys and Alex Grays left behind a melancholy trail of shattered dreams and broken hearts.

Global News website

Global News website


Pay them all a visit at Global’s sobering and poignant website. It’s riveting stuff. Here’s where to find it:


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From D-Day, to the Rhine, to Korea: Roy Rushton

Seventy years ago, Roy Rushton peered through a hole in the floor of his vibrating aircraft as it swept over the Normandy coast. Just below, he saw German flak ripping the sky apart.

It didn’t look good; and Roy’s day was just beginning.

Rushton was heading into his first battle, in his first war. There would be more of each. Wherever Roy Rushton turned up, exciting, noisy, dangerous things always seemed to happen.


Roy Rushton, as a sniper in Holland, January 1945 © Roy Rushton

It’s tough to imagine a soldier who’s been through more perilous moments than Roy Rushton. But he is neither a brooder; nor a gasbag. He’s a level-headed, laid-back fellow, with a wry sense of humour, but with no sense at all of self-importance. Quite the guy.

At 11 p.m. on the 5th of June, 1944, Rushton and ten other Paratroopers in that plane, watched England receding into the darkness behind them. Two hours later, they would be fighting for their lives. As members of the elite 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, they were  being dropped behind German lines, to help disrupt and distract the enemy until the main Allied invasion force hit the beaches at dawn. By 1 a.m., Rushton and his buddies leapt from their planes into the night, and were among the first allied soldiers to land in France on D-Day.

Canadian Para shoulder patch

Canadian Para shoulder patch

“We had to dodge enemy aircraft, and we got the rivers mixed up,” Rushton remembered to a local newspaper recently. “We ended up landing all over the place. Our Protestant padre’s parachute didn’t open.” The Germans quickly counterattacked with tanks. “We had no artillery, no tanks” he says. “But our commanding officer was able to contact a battleship out in the English Channel. The shells sounded just like a big freight train coming in. There was quite a bit of hand-to-hand fighting after that.” Within two months his battalion was down to almost half its men. But Rushton survived.

Canadian paratroops in northern France, 1944

Canadian paratroops in northern France, 1944

Next … on Christmas day, 1944, in dreadful winter weather, and in an operation normally thought of as exclusively American, Roy and his Canadian Parachute Battalion were rushed into the line in ferocious combat in the Battle of the  Bulge in the Ardennes.

Next … three months later, Roy dropped from the sky, again, along with 16,000 other paratroopers, across the Rhine into Germany itself.

The drop across the Rhine

The drop across the Rhine

It was the largest airdrop in history. Within a half hour of being on the ground, he was hit in the thigh by a Nazi sniper. Roy’s war was over … this one at least.

Next … as if all this was not enough, restless after he returned home to peanut-sized Salt Spring, Nova Scotia, in 1950  he went off  to join the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (the soon-to-be famous 2PPCLI of Kapyong), a new special all-volunteer unit created to be Canada’s first combat force in the Korean War.

Roy Ruston, his next war ... Korea, 1951

Roy Ruston, his next war … Korea, 1951/ © Roy Rushton

Roy fought with great distinction in a series of savage hill battles. During one such attack, on Hill 419, with his platoon lieutenant wounded, Roy — a corporal —  took the officer’s weapon, binoculars and field message book, and pressed on, leading the attack himself. Casualties mounted and the assault was finally abandoned. Years after the war, Roy discovered the lieutenant had survived his wounds, and Rushton returned his field book … complete with two bullet holes and blood stains.

Roy’s amazing life as a fighting soldier came to an end in late 1951 when he was deemed no  longer medically fit to serve in combat, was given a medical discharge and send home. Today he lives in an apartment with his wife Margaret (and their pet  chihuahua) in  Pictou County, Nove Scotia, where they first met over 60 years ago, at a local dance.


Roy and Margaret Rushton, 2013, Pictou Nova Scotia (Halifax Chronicle Herald)

Rushton’s been back to Normandy several times, but at 96, bad hearing and arthritis kept him from the 70th anniversary this past D-day. He followed the ceremonies on television. His memories are still out there, among the deadly Normandy hedgerows.

The French remember all this, incidentally. The French government has sent him a letter saying it will give him a Croix de Guerre … a  Thank You, for helping liberate their country from the Nazis.

And that German sniper’s bullet? “It’s still in there,” he jokes. Quite the guy.

Posted in Canadian Army, korean war, military history, PPCLI | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

U.S. Presidential Unit Citations: the Canadian Heroes

The Americans have developed a unique way of honouring heroism in war.

It’s in recognition of exception bravery bestowed not to an individual, but to an entire unit. It’s called the “Presidential Unit Citation.” You’d scarcely notice it … it’s a blue flash about the size of your little finger, worn on the right shoulder. It’s small, but represents great deeds. An American battle honour, that’s been won by Canadians.

Presidential Unit Citation flash

Presidential Unit Citation flash

Established right after Pearl Harbor, it’s been won by American units that fought in some of the worst fighting in their country’s history:  Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge. And on it goes …

To qualify: ”The unit must display such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart and above other units participating in the same campaign.”

The Presidential Unit Citation stands out because it’s awarded to formations … often battalions … and on occasion to non-American units who fight alongside US forces. The units carry the honour as long as they exist. No other country does this as far as I can determine.

For example in the Second World War, two units of the Free French resistance were cited. In the Korean War, among those receiving Presidential  Citations were troops from Britain, Begium, France, and Turkey. A Dutch unit, the Regiment Van Heutsz, actually was given the honour TWICE. Those fighting in the unit at the time of the battle may wear the decoration permanently, no matter where they subsequently serve. New recruits — like those enlisting this afternoon, for example, can wear the flash as long as they are in that battalion.

Sixty three years ago this week, a Canadian unit won a Presidential Citation: the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. About 700 strong (all volunteers) surrounded and cut off, they fought off thousands of Chinese at a place called Kapyong, preventing the capture of Seoul. (Two other units were also honored at Kapyong: the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and an American unit, A Company, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion.)

2PPCLI about the time of Kapyong (Photo by Hub Gray)

2PPCLI about the time of Kapyong (Photo by Hub Gray)

In a exquisite  example of bone-headed pedantry, citing reasons of protocol, Ottawa refused to allow 2PPCLI to accept the citation. Five years went by before the government finally backed down and the Patricias were formally presented with their citation by the US ambassador in a ceremony in Calgary.

Citation Presented by US Ambassador

Citation Presented by US Ambassador

2PPCLI still exists, now based in Shilo, Manitoba and its members still wear that blue shoulder flash awarded six decades ago. 2PPCLI will wear it as long as 2PPCLI exists.

It’s often claimed this is the only time Canadian soldiers received a Presidential citation. Not so. Eight years ago, JTF2 — Canada’s super-secret, anti-terrorism commando force — was quietly (almost secretly) awarded a Presidential Citation by George W. Bush. The men were part of a multi-national unit called Joint Special Operations Task Force South for it’s fighting in Afghanistan. What battles, exactly? Don’t ask. No press were allowed at the ceremony and no details were ever made available on what the soldiers  actually did there.

But the next time you spot a Canadian soldier with a little blue flash on the right shoulder, you’ll know you’re in the company of a lot of history.

2ppcli flash

And if you spot someone now in their 80s with a blue flash on his blazer pocket, you’ll know he was up to something remarkable on one cold, perilous night on a Korean hill 63 years ago this week.

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The Hero Who Refused His Medal

Ola Mize could have stepped right out of a Hollywood movie. Except he was no actor, to put it mildly. He was the real deal.

Mize came from the humblest of backgrounds and went on to become one of his nation’s great heroes.

Col Ola Mize

Despite the adulation showered on him, he remained an anti-hero, so utterly un-Hollywoodlike; so foreign to the celebrity-centric universe of today’s pop culture. Mize was modest, quiet-spoken, selfless and unbelievably brave.

Born the son of a sharecropper in poor northeastern Alabama he left school in grade nine to support his family. Hoping to better himself, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, but was rejected because of his puny, 120 pounds. So he put on weight. Then he had to cheat on an vision test when Army doctors discovered he was blinded in one eye in a childhood accident. Mize enlisted in the famed 82nd Airborne in 1948, served a term, then re-enlisted for the Korean War.

Only months before the war’s end, his unit was defending  a strategic hill called Outpost Harry, near a place called Surang-ni. They were attacked by Chinese and North Koreans. Mize, a Sergeant,  went out and rescued a wounded comrade at an isolated listening post.

Then, he noticed a machine gun nest was being over-run and fought his way to his beliegered men, killing ten enemy soldiers in the process.

His Medal of Honor citation describes some of what happened next:

“He was blown down by artillery and grenade blasts 3 times but each time he dauntlessly returned to his position, tenaciously fighting and successfully repelling hostile attacks. When enemy onslaughts ceased he took his few men and moved from bunker to bunker, firing through apertures and throwing grenades at the foe, neutralizing their positions. When an enemy soldier stepped out behind a comrade, prepared to fire, M/Sgt. Mize killed him, saving the life of his fellow soldier. After rejoining the platoon, moving from man to man, distributing ammunition, and shouting words of encouragement he observed a friendly machine gun position overrun. He immediately fought his way to the position, killing 10 of the enemy and dispersing the remainder. Fighting back to the command post, and finding several friendly wounded there, he took a position to protect them … At dawn he helped regroup for a counterattack which successfully drove the enemy from the outpost.”

Mize had killed over 60 enemy soldiers. Out of 58 men in his own unit, only eight survived. When it was over, Mize  was covered with dirt, much of his clothing blown off by artillery fire and his skin blackened by powder burns.

He initially refused the Medal of Honor, but finally accepted on behalf of his men.

Mize then volunteered for four tours of duty in Vietnam, including more than three years with the Green Berets, and ended up commanding the Special Forces school and finally retired in 1981 as a Colonel. Aside from his Medal of Honor he’d earned four other decorations, including  the Bronze star … four times.

Ola Mize

Ola Mize at the time of Korea

Here’s Mize, in 2011,  describing his night on Outpost Harry:


On March 5th, this unassuming man died at 82, in Gadsden, Alabama, near the small town where he was born. Mize, as a Medal of Honor winner, was entitled to be buried in Arlington in Washington DC. But he chose to remain in his home town.

The Gadsden newspaper described the road to his gravesite being lined with admirers paying tribute to their local hero.


Mize was being honoured in death for a war he fought in 60 years ago. Sixty years from now, how many Canadians will even remember our Afghanistan war, let alone honour the Canadan heros who did the fighting and who died there?

Ola Mize had a simple theory of leadership that could be applied to any army … or any corporation for that matter. He didn’t need elaborate courses on motivation on how to lead.

Being a leader, he said, simply meant: “I was the custodian of my men’s welfare.”

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Korean War: On the Right Side of History

Just before Christmas, sixty-three years ago this week, the decrepit troopship, USS Private Joe P. Martinez, pulled into Pusan harbor. Canada had come to the war.

The place was a wreck … filthy, smokey, bomb-cratered .. it had been the UN forces’ only toehold and major supply point in this meat-grinder of a conflict. The harbour was full of garbage, debris, filth and the occasional body.

It was a grim time, although General Douglas MacArthur’s brilliant landing at Inchon three months earlier had driven the invading North Koreans out of the South. Ominously however, his forces were now beginning to encounter troops from China.

Into this nightmare-in-the-making, chugs the sad, leaky Martinez. The only thing keeping the water out was the rust, the men said. On board: the newly-minted 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) —  700 strong. All volunteers, these were Canada’s first troops in the Korean War.

At dockside, a US Army band greeted the Canadians with “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked a Cake.”  Korean school kids greeted them with flags.

December 18, 1950: by February these Canadians would be in combat; by April, fighting for their lives. The Patricia’s were the first. Other units would replace them as the war raged on. By the time it was over two and a half years later, 516 Canadians would be dead. It had been no piece of cake.

2PPCLI shortly before the Battle of Kapyong

2PPCLI shortly before the Battle of Kapyong

Were those deaths worth it? For the families and friends of those slain (total deaths on all sides was  over 1 million) the loss is a heartbreaking tragedy. But was the war itself worth it? …  that is a different question.

Six decades later, what do we have? During the War, there were atrocities on both sides and South Korea had often been ruled by the Army or by not-exactly-Thomas-Jeffersons. But today, 60 years later, where would any sane person prefer to live?

Life expectancy: In the North 69 years; in the South 80.

Infant mortality: In the North 26 per th; in the South 4 (not a typo).

Gross Domestic Product per capita: North $1,800; South $33,000

This is  Seoul today  (a smoking ruin six decades ago):


This is a satellite photo showing North Korea at night:

nk at night

In South, a functioning vibrant democracy .. with a woman president, incidently.

In the North: a Stalinist thug,  Kim Jong-un, who rules by firing squads, assassinations and gulags. While North Korean peasants starved, this standard bearer of the working class flew off to schools in Switzerland, and later obtained degrees in physics at — wait for it — Kim Il-sung University (grandpa) and another as an Army officer at —  surprise, surprise — the Kim Il-sung Military University. A general at 30, he has never served 30 seconds in combat.


He’s festooned himself with titles, the most concise is “a great person born of heaven.” The most jaw-breaking: “The Highest Incarnation of Revolutionary Comradely Love.”

Here’s the full list titles for the “Great Sun of Life:”


The result of the Korean War was to contain the maniacal lunatic regime of the North, to the North. Today, it’s a land of famine and terror.

In the South: a land of Hyundai and Samsung and international tourism and half the world’s ship-building, and where average income is more than 15 (!) times higher than in the North. And it has democracy.

To fight in defence of South Korea was a noble cause. We Canadians and the sacrifice of those 500 fallen, helped make that possible. Like the Dutch who to this day hold a special place for Canadians in their national memory … so too do the South Koreans who remember, even if Canadians today do not.

cdn cemetary korea

When the little Martinez arrived in Pusan 63 years ago this week, only days before Christmas with our troops on board,  far from home and family, we were on the right side of history. Something to think about in this season of family and togetherness.

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In Korea: Mosquitos Can Be Your Friend

They were a curious collection of  Canadian soldier-flyboys; heroes you’ve probably never heard of.

This handful, who fought in the dangerous skies above Korea six decades ago, flew in American planes,  were in an American unit, but wore Canadian uniforms.

And they weren’t technically airmen at all, but were infantry soldiers.

They were called “The Mosquitos.”

bud mcleod 2

Lieut Bud MacLeod, 2PPCLI, (left) with his USAF pilot Capt Bud Doane Jr, prior to conducting air strike on enemy positions. August, 1951. (Photo courtesy: Bud MacLeod)

Yet, somehow their harrowing experiences day-after-day as their aircraft blistered along often only a few feet over enemy positions, are scarcely known.

These men, are not to be confused with the 22 RCAF fighter pilots who were attached to USAF squadrons. These men, the Mosquitos, were different: they were combat riflemen, who flew.

Early in the war, 17 British troops were accidentally killed and 76 injured by US air attack in a friendly fire incident. To avoid such tragedies again, the US set up an outfit called the 6147 Tactical Control Group. Their job was to circle the battlefield, identify friendly troops, direct air strikes, mark out enemy forces with smoke rockets for incoming fighters and bombers, and then finally, assess damage by making low passes over the fighting zone.

Seventeen Canadian soldiers flew on such missions. They were the spotters, and sat behind the pilot in the two-seat Harvards (known to the Americans as Texans).

It was harrowing work.

Four Canadian Mosquitos received Distinguished Flying Crosses, five received Air Medals, and one received the Military Cross. Three men were casualties, including Lieut. Neil Anderson of the Queens Own Rifles, who was killed.

When Bud MacLeod, then a 21-year-old lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion, Prince Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (the unit that fought at Kapyong only a month earlier), reported for duty at his American airbase, his new poker-playing tent-mates had a radio turned on, ominously playing “So long, It’s Been Good To Know You.”

He was told just to toss his kit bag on that cot in the corner over there.

But, MacLeod said, there was already someone else’s gear there.

“Oh George won’t been needing it any more,” he was told. “He was shot down today … Graves Registration will pick it up in the morning … Pull up a stool. Got any money?”

His first flight was so terrifying he remembers nothing about it, except it was terrifying.  Later, he says, he graduated from terror into being “just scared.”

bud mcleod1

Lieut. Bud MacLeod 2PPCLI (right) just returned from a mission directing US Marine Corps air strikes, with his pilot USAF Capt. Harry Hauser. July 1952. (Photo courtresy: Bud MacLeod)

Sometimes, MacLeod recalls, the Mosquitos flew in so low, coming over the brow of hill they scattered enemy soldiers having their morning coffee … so low in fact hand grenades could be tossed up at the plane.

In one  mission, MacLeod and his pilot were flying up a valley, looking for an entry to an adjacent valley. He mis-read his map and sent them into a re-entrant that was both narrower … and — shudder — had higher sides, which got closer and closer by the second. Soon there was no room left to turn.

As MacLeod relates sardonically: “So we had to struggle on. I pulled up on my seat in hopes of making the aircraft lighter. As we approached the pass, we could see two soldiers  cooking breakfast right in the pass saddle. We cleared that mountain pass by about ten feet and the enemy dove for cover.

“So there were four who required a change of laundry that day.”

One of MacLeod’s pilots once went up with a rifle and a bag of grenades. Over the target, he blazed away, while tossing his grenades out the cockpit. MacLeod cringed at the thought of flying with that guy ever again.

A few days later, MacLeod was late arriving at the flight line .. only to be told his aggressive pilot had already taken off with a last-minute replacement spotter. The plane MacLeod was assigned to be on, never returned from the mission and the bodies never recovered.

Then there’s the out-of-Hollywood story of Capt. Pat Tremblay of the Royal 22nd Regiment. On his very first flight, his plane was hit and the pilot knocked unconscious. Tremblay was a trained parachutist, and could have bailed out. He did not. Rather than leave the wounded pilot to a certain death, he stayed on board, maneuvered the stricken plane back over friendly lines and crash-landed at a friendly airbase, saving the pilot’s life. Tremblay had never piloted a plane in his life before that moment.  He received the Military Cross for bravery.

They were a remarkable group of young men. One of the best known was Peter Worthington, who went on to become a widely-read journalist and war correspondent who wrote often and passionately about Korea and the valour of the men who fought there. Peter passed away this weekend.

Their group was called Mosquitos, incidentally, because captured enemy soldiers said one of the most aggravating aspects of life at the front was the incessant buzzing of the silver birds that circled above them, and knowing bombs and rockets would soon be on their way.

The Mosquitos have a web site:


This summer at the cottage, when you hear that irritating buzzing, think of those soldier-fliers from six decades ago. Sometimes, Mosquitos can be your friend.

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Henry Champ 1937-2012

Henry Champ was an absolutely terrific journalist, and in that old fashioned Victorian sense, a gracious gentleman.

Henry Champ 1937 – 2012

Henry’s career spanned the evolution of modern journalism.

He was born in the Brandon (Manitoba) General Hospital (as was I, five years later). As a teenager, I was a member of something called the High School Militia. It was something more than Army Cadets, but less than the regular Militia. Henry, then a regular Militia Lieutenant, volunteered to be in charge of us. He had that magic that cannot be taught: he was a natural leader. Today it’s called charisma or charm; but that suggests something vaguely artificial. With Henry it was the real thing. Those who knew him will know what I mean.

It was from Henry that I first heard much of the Korean War, and the PPCLI; and Kapyong.

He entered journalism as a sports reporter with the Brandon Sun (as years later did I, only as a summer intern in charge of weddings and seniors’ birthdays and funerals).

Henry went on to cover just about everything a journalist could hope for: wars, summits, elections, disasters, peace conferences, riots and revolutions. Among his many postings: he was with W5 at CTV, for NBC news in Europe, and in Washington for CTV and then CBC Television for many years.

Behind his disarming impish, Mona Lisa-type smile; and his engaging warmth, lurked a razor-sharp mind that raced ahead like a rocket.

He always took his work very seriously indeed, but never himself.

And he never got confused into thinking the reporter was the story. To Henry, The Story was always the story.

Henry was generous with what he knew … and Henry knew a lot. Many times I would call. saying, Henry, I need: a senator (or whatever: lobbyist, or CIA agent, or State Dept official) who was an expert in _____ (file in the blank). Henry always would know precisely such a person and then phone to set up a meeting.

A few years ago, a young student from Brandon University wanted to go to Washington for Obama’s inauguration. I asked Henry to suggest some inexpensive hotels/motels/hostels where the student could stay and any public events he might attend. In a heartbeat, Henry said the student — a complete stranger — could stay at his house, and where ever Henry went that that day, the student could come along. It was a front-row-to-history experience that student will carry in his memory to the end of his days.

In the 1950s, Henry flunked out of Brandon University. I don’t think he got beyond First Year. It puzzled me because Henry was a bright sharp guy. A few years later (when I was a student at the same place), I asked him: “Henry, why didn’t you ever graduate?”

“Bridge,” he smiled. “Too much bridge.”

Henry, the dropout, ended up being Chancellor.

I am making a journalist’s mistake here that Henry would never have committed. I’ve ended up writing mostly about me. But I’m not the story. Henry’s the story. Sadly.

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The MASH Heros You’ve Never Heard Of

Is there anyone, anywhere who hasn’t heard of MASH?

When its TV run ended in 1983, the final show was the most-watched television episode in history.

But there’s a remarkable MASH unit hardly anyone here knows of. What a pity. Their raw courage is right out of  the most harrowing war movie.

Except that the heros in this real-life saga never came within a million miles of Hollywood. They were Indians … as in, India.

They were members of the 60th Para Field Ambulance … medics who were also parachutists, who jumped into combat alongside the fighting infantry. These MASH men of the 60th were not the boozy, skirt-chasing, wise-cracking cynics of the TV show.

When the Korean War broke out, recently-independent India opted not to send combat forces, but instead would contribute a crack medical team … the 60th Para, which had served in Burma against the Japanese, It was commanded by a veteran, Lieut-Col A.G. Rangaraj, reputedly the first member of the Indian army to earn his parachutists wings, earlier in World War 2. (The photos below are from India’s official account of the 60th’s Korean War experiences).

60th Para CO, Lt-Col A.G. Rangaraj

The 60th Para arrived in Korea in Nov, 1950, composed of  346 men,  including four combat surgeons, two anaesthesiologists and a dentist.

When the Chinese swarmed through UN lines in November 1950, the 60th had to evacuate its position. But they had no transport and were reluctant to abandon their medical equipment. They stumbled across an ancient steam locomotive, formed bucket brigades to fill the boilers with water, and loaded up the train. Two soldiers (with zero previous train experience), got it all running and chugged across the last bridge south  before it was blown. They don’t teach that in medical school or army staff colleges..

Colonel Rangaraj’s logic was: they were specifically trained for mountain operations such as they found in Korea, and had first class equipment for such work. It would have been a great pity to leave it all behind. “We would have been of little use without it,” he said later, “ and could not afford to lose it.”

The Indian medics stuck with the troops they were treating during the horrific rearguard fighting that winter. Three times in three days they set up and then closed down their dressing stations as they tried to find safety, refusing to abandon the wounded..

Later, in March ’51, in the second biggest airborne operation in the war, Operation Tomahawk, a dozen medics of the 60th parachuted in behind the lines with 4,000 US troops. Rangaraj was among them.

Casualties were heavy. A U.S.commander said: “I was immediately struck by the (Indians’) efficiency. That small unit, adapted for an airborne role, has carried out 103 operations. which is quite outstanding for that type of unit … probably 50 of those operated (on) owed their lives to those men.”

60th Para behind enemy lines, with US troops and POWs, Operation Tomahawk

The freezing wounded were lying in the open. The Indian medics dug trenches to shelter them and covered them with parachute silk to keep them warm.

It was typical 60th Para valour. In September, 1951, while attached to Commonwealth troops, they treated 448 casualties in six days of fighting. A month later they evacuated (under fire) another 150 wounded. In many other clashes later they were still in the thick of  it. The Indians saved hundreds of wounded.

US helicopter picks up casualty treated by the 60th Para

In all, they treated about 200,000 wounded. … which included  2,300 field medical operations … and in the meantime, also trained local Korean doctors and nurses.

The 60th  Para received many decorations from their own country, and from South Korea, the UN, a US Bronze Star, and a unit citation from Douglas MacArthur. India also issued a postage stamp in tribute to their heroism. (Has Canada ever made such a gesture specifically honouring any of  our army’s Korean feats?)

The 60th served in Korea for three and a half years, until February 1954, the longest single tenure of any unit in the entire war.

It is quite an outfit with quite the history. Wounded Canadian Korean vets, some from Kapyong,  have told me of their great admiration for the Indian medical teams who helped save their lives. It says something about the myopic way we teach history that this unit’s thrilling story is so little known.

While I’m at it, there’s some disconnect here. Why do so many trained Indian doctors who move to Canada, find it such a tough task getting their expertise recognized?  …. Just asking.

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Nukes in Asia

The first and only (so far) use of “atomic” weapons in history was against the Japanese. But we’ll never know how close we came to seeing a second atomic attack, only five years later, also in Asia. In Korea.

The attacks on Japan are still contentious: Was Tokyo on the verge of surrender anyway? Or was it in fact the nuclear attacks that convinced the Japanese to quit?

Who knows? All that’s certain is that with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pacific war ended. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers now would not die invading the Japanese home islands; nor also – it is sometimes forgotten –would hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians – including mostly women and schoolchildren — who would have been forced into hopeless combat by their government.

The Americans had both the capacity and the inclination to reduce Japanese cities one-by-one to radioactive ashes. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US was energetically preparing more A Bombs, dozens of them, if needed. They weren’t.

Here are some remarkable photos of the actual Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs in production. (There’s a link to more photos at the end):

Technician applies sealant to Fat Man- the Hiroshima bomb

Technicians autographing Fat Man

One of the worries generated after the war, was that once a new terrible weapons system has been used, there is less hesitation in using it a second time, or a third, and so on. It’s not novel any more.

The horror is somehow the less because it’s been done before. It’s not exactly more acceptable; but rather less unacceptable.

That’s what happened with gas in World War One and with submarines attacking civilian ships in World War 2.The level for outrage is raised bit by bit and suddenly the unthinkable has become the everyday.

Technicians prepare Thin Man, the Nagasaki bomb

In Korea there was great clamour from some hotheads to use atomic bombs against the Chinese communists. President Truman refused to rule the option out. British Prime Minister Atlee flew to Washington specifically to ask for a promise atomic weapons would not be used in Korea… at least without British agreement. Truman refused to give any such assurances and Atlee went home empty-handed.

It now seems unlikely, looking back from the comfort zone of 60 years, that Truman would have okayed atomic strikes in Korea… unless there was a catastrophe at the front and nuclear hits were the only way of saving Allied armies (including Canadians) from destruction.

But there were a few excited voices around Truman counselling nuclear strikes, as there were around Kennedy during the Cuban crisis in 1962. Both leaders – we should be eternally thankful for this – remained calm and listened to the prudent, and not to nuclear fanatics and their frenzied calls for unleashing a slide into Armageddon.

More Fat Man-type casings in background.
Thin Man casings in foreground

Korea was the nuclear war that did not happen.

Here’s that link to more of those riveting photos of the manufacture and assembling of those first atomic weapons. Korea was only five years in the future.


The “ordinariness” of the scenes is chilling.

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The Civil War, Korea, and Jews

The American Civil War. Canada in Korea. And Jews. What could these three themes possibly have in common?

Something to ponder this Easter/Passover weekend, as Christians and Jews each celebrate a major event in their faiths.

First, the Civil War: In December, 1862 Ulysses S. Grant issued “General Orders No. 11,” which called for the expulsion of  “Jews as a class” from his area of operations. It was designed to crack down on smuggling. Smugglers were in fact a real problem for Grant in his fight against the Confederacy, and some smugglers were in fact Jews. But Grant’s order seemed to single them out, implicating all Jews.

The order came only two weeks before the Emancipation Proclamation and the Southern press howled with delight at the hypocrisy of  the North: freeing Blacks but expelling Jews; while in the South, a Jew – Judah Benjamin – had risen to become one of the Confederacy’s most powerful leaders as  Secretary of State and later Secretary of  War.

In the North, Jews appealed directly to Lincoln. Lincoln had a word with Grant – to put it mildly — pointing out that the General had slurred an entire religious group, many of whom were in  his own army dying for their country. Within days the order was rescinded, and Grant meekly later tried to explain that it had been given “without due reflection” and in a letter to the B’nai Brith he declared he “had no prejudice against any sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit.”

And that seems to have been the “real” Grant. A modest, liberal, compassionate man. Still,  after a century and a half of study, Order No 11 remains deeply baffling. There had been not a hint of anti-Semitism in Grant before or after. So where does this  spring from? No one knows. To add to the bizarreness of it all,  Grant as president appointed more Jews to public office than any president before him (one of them was the American consul in British Columbia). He made human rights part of America’s foreign policy, and was the first President to attend a synagogue dedication.

This story has now been re-examined in “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” a wonderful new book by Professor Jonathan Sarna, an historian at Brandeis University.

It can be found at:




In Korea, not quite a century later,Canada had its Grant-like moment. And it’s just as enigmatic.

At Kapyong, in Canada’s first major battle in the war, about 700 soldiers in the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry narrowly escaped annihilation in a ferocious fight against thousands of Chinese,  61 years ago this month.

There were many heros. One of them was a young lieutenant, Mike Levy, who called in artillery fire on his own positions when they were about to be swamped. Five men were (quite rightly) decorated for bravery. Levy was not among them. His omission baffled all who were there that night. Levy was an admired and effective combat leader. And by any standards, heroic.

Mike Levy / right foreground (photo by Hub Gray)

A half century later, Hub Gray, a Kapyong hero himself and author of  a book on the battle, solved the mystery. He tracked down a soldier from the Intelligence Section that night, who’d overheard the commander, Colonel Jim Stone say that Levy would get no medal because “I will not award a medal to a Jew.”

Gray fought for years to get recognition for Levy and in 2003 the then Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, granted Levy a coat of arms for his valour at Kapyong. (Clarkson was a 12-year-old school girl at the time of the battle and today is  PPCLI’s  colonel-in-chief.)

Remarkably, Levy bore not the slightest grudge against Stone (who died in 2005). Stone was a superb commander, much decorated and a brilliant tactician. Levy said in later years he would have followed the man anywhere. After Kapyong, Stone appointed Levy to be his intelligence officer, a post of great trust, which may have been Stone’s way of saying “I’m sorry.”

Levy died in 2007. Sixty years after Kapyong the whole incident still remains an unsolvable mystery, even to Levy’s family.

As Christians and Jews this weekend celebrate Easter and Passover, it’s a moment to ponder  the often baffling nature of prejudice. These two particular and apparently momentary, “outbreaks” in otherwise great and compassionate men remain as inexplicable today as when they occurred.

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