The Last Hurrah: It’s Over

Was it a time to laugh or a time to weep? Was it an occasion of joy or of sorrow. It was all those things.

It was “The Last Hurrah.”

This week saw the last annual gathering of Canada’s veterans from the Korean war. It was simply time.

They’re mostly in their eighties now. Six decades ago, in the prime of life and fired with a thirst for adventure, they went off to war in a wild place they’d never heard of.

About 27,000 of them fought in the third-bloodiest conflict in Canada‘s history. They battled atop the freezing hills and down in the sweltering valleys for two and a half years. Their forgotten war is as far removed from us as the Riel Rebellion was from the start of the Second World War. Today, the Korean War almost seems like archaeology.

The passing years have cruelly thinned their ranks. There are now only around 11,000 left. Many are in failing health. Local chapters of the Koreans Veterans Association are simply closing down one-by-one as membership shrivels. It was time to say: “Enough.”

This past week in Winnipeg about 500 Korean vets gathered for their one last fling … their final reunion. There were mixed feelings says Mike Czuboka, one of the organizers.

“We’re in the last part of our lives. If you’re in your 80s you realize you’ve maybe got about another ten years ahead of you. You know things are coming to a close.”

For most, this would be their last chance to meet with old comrades from their youth, that they’d fought beside in the greatest adventure of their lives. Hence, The Last Hurrah. Time for a good laugh and a quiet cry.

Curiously, the final curtain falls this year, on the 60th anniversary (last April) of Canada’s first and most famous Korean battle, at Kapyong.

Kapyong veterans were prominent at this final gathering of  these aging warriors. The Korean Veterans Association’s current (and last) president is John Bishop.

Property of John Bishop

He was a corporal at Kapyong. Bishop, years  later, as a Lieutenant Colonel, became Canada’s military attaché to South Korea, and often visited the battlefield, bragging he could still fit into his old foxhole.

Mike Czuboka, one of the Last Hurrah organizers, hitchhiked a freight train to Winnipeg to enlist and lied about his age to get into the Korean Special Force.

Property of Mike Czuboka

He was at Kapyong, in a small mortar crew that helped save his battalion headquarters from being overrun by attacking Chinese.

Hub Gray, then a young lieutenant, commanded those mortar men and also a heavy machinegun crew at Kapyong.

Property of Hub Gray

He led the small force that blocked the attack on the battalion HQ. In later years he wrote a first-hand account of the battle, from the inside looking out..

And Smiley Douglas was also in Winnipeg.

Property of PPCLI Museum and Archives

He lost an arm at Kapyong (and was later decorated) when he tried to save his platoon when a grenade tumbled into their midst.

Some local Korean Vet groups in larger centres will still function on their own. And the KVA still operates a great website (http://kvacanada.com) crammed with history, anecdotes and statistics. It’s a great resource. And the Memory Project (http://thememoryproject.com) is now interviewing Korean vets and preserving their stories for a generation that has never heard of our war in Korea.

But, as a national group, it’s over. A page has been quietly turned.

Adding to the bittersweet taste of the moment in Winnipeg this past week, were sad memories of those who could not attend: the 500 young Canadians who died in the Korean hills six decades ago and are buried at the UN cemetery in Pusan.

For the aged veterans who are left, their absent friends will remain forever young.

Advertisements

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
This entry was posted in Canadian Army, korean war, military history, PPCLI, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Last Hurrah: It’s Over

  1. Brian Denike says:

    Great story Dan. In fact all your stories and your book on the Korean “Police Action” should be required reading by all Canadians. I’m not a vet, but I’m old enough to remember how I felt at the time. Born at the start of WW2, my first memories of my dad are when he came home from “his” war. Korea seemed, to my immature mind, was a last chance at “my” war, and I cursed the fact I was too young. Of course the more I read and heard about war, the more I realized how lucky I was to be born when I was, and the more I admired the vets who went through it. Like you, as a journalist, I saw and covered the fringes of several conflicts, but never on the actual pointy end like the front line vets in your stories. Well done and thank you to all of them, and to you for all your hard work on their stories.

    Brian Denike

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s