Korean War Competes with Goldfish

For a brief, flicker of a moment, history’s most famous forgotten war was remembered.

On Wednesday, several hundred Korean War veterans, now in their 80s, gathered as they do every year, at the memorial to their slain comrades in the Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton, just west of  Toronto.

The occasion marked the 58th anniversary of the ending of the  three-year meat-grinder
from which more than 500 young Canadians did not come home.

A memorial wall in the Brampton cemetery contains individual bronze plaques, replicas of the originals placed on the actual graves, back in Pusan, Korea. The Wall
was almost entirely a grass-roots citizens’ initiative. There was virtually no government involvement. The funds were raised mostly by veterans’ groups and Canada’s Korean

Among those at the ground-breaking dedication 15 years ago, was Korea’s Consul General. At Wednesday’s ceremony, as is the case each year, was Ji-in Hong, Korea’s
current Consul General. (Anyone wondering “what is a Canadian?” should ask two
peoples: the Dutch and the South Koreans. They know exactly who we are.)

Normally this event would be ignored by the media who feel they have bigger fish to fry. This story would have to compete with tales about Toronto’s Mayor driving his car while using a cell phone; or goldfish found in the ruins of the New Zealand quake; or Chapter 576 of the unending British tabloid bugging scandal. Trust me on this, in such a
competition between veterans marking the end of a war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, and goldfish and such; the Vets would lose

But not this time. This time it was news. It took the arrival of Canada’s
Prime Minister to turn a phantom event into an occasion. This is what happens to the media when a Somebody turns up at a local ceremony: it magically morphs into a Something:

Stephen Harper came to the ceremony at Brampton and Shazam … it blossomed into a
media happening. Usually Ottawa and the press scarcely acknowledge the memorial’s existence or care about its meaning. But today, it was the centre of a national news story. Harper gave a certain significance to the war no one remembers, and to the risks these aging warriors took. Korea, he said,  was “one of the most significant armed engagements of the 20th Century.” He then sent the newly-minted Veterans Affairs minister and his parliamentary secretary to a luncheon held by the Korean Consul General. The event was packed by more than 700 veterans and their families, unused to such attention.

Among those 700 were a half dozen or so veterans of Kapyong, Canada’s pivotal battle in the war, including John Bishop of Victoria BC, currently president of the Korean Veterans’ Association. He also may well be the last.

Bishop has a sad task as president. In late August in Winnipeg, he will preside
over “The Last Hurray” … the last and final gathering of  the aging Canadian Korean vets.

Among those invited to Winnipeg: the Korean ambassador and Stephen Harper. The ambassador will doubtless attend. As for Harper, we’ll see.

On Wednesday, he noted the Korean War was the forgotten war, but he said: “times are finally changing.” Well maybe …  sadly, I’m not hopeful there is a cure for Canada’s historical amnesia. I hope Harper is right and I’m wrong. But put your money on me

Perhaps, if  Harper turns up in Winnipeg, the Last Hurray will be “news.” If  he
doesn’t,  let’s hope there’s no goldfish story happening somewhere.


About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at: danbjarnason@gmail.com
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