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.

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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:”’s_titles

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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