Bob Near, president of the Royal Canadian Regiment, has an extensive relationship with the Canadian veterans of the Korean War. A veteran himself, he dedicates his time to honoring the service of Canadian veterans and their service. He describes the role of Canadian forces during the Korean War. He also includes a description of a yearly military competition honoring the Canadian capture of Hill 187, including the capture of a Chinese Burp gun. In addition, he describes the importance of the Korean War at the time and now to the Canadian people.
You're In It For Life
Bob Near describes the role of Canadian forces during the Korean War. He explains that Second Battalions went overseas to assist in the war efforts. He expounds that once a Canadian is in the military, he/she is always considered a member through honor.
Hill 187 Competition
Bob Near describes the yearly competition in Canada commemorating the capture of Hill 187. Royal Canadian soldiers compete against each other in their platoons. The event celebrates the capture of a Chinese Burp Gun.
Our Guys Did A Great Job
Bob Near describes the importance of Canada's contribution to the Korean War. He describes the time period including the Berlin Wall and the march of Communism. He explains that Canadians were willing to give their lives for the defense of freedom and democracy.
Knowledge of the Korean War and Canadian Response
Bob Near shares that his knowledge of the Korean War stems from an interest in history and interactions with veterans his father worked with while growing up. He explains that the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War in Canada as it is overshadowed by World War II and the Cold War that followed. He adds that the relatively low number of Canadians who served in the war compared to the number who served in World War II has played a role regarding less publicity.
[Beginning of recorded material]
B: My name is, uh, Bob Near and, Bob for Robert and N-E-A-R, Near as in far I like to say and, uh, I’m here with Jung Woo who’s asking to come along and give some assistance in this interview project, a wonderful project that, uh, he has undertaken to keep the, uh, memories alive
I: Um hm.
B: of the, of the Korean veterans, and, uh, we’re here in our first, uh, setup of interviews in the Bell’s Corners Legion. This is a suburb of Ottawa not very far from the downtown.
But it’s a bit of a urban, suburban area. And we’re going to have a number of the veterans coming in that we will be speaking with.
I: That’s great. Could you explain how we become involved together?
B: Well, yeah. I was just thinking about that. It took place back in, uh, November, early December of 2015, and I sat beside Jung Woo at an event where they were presenting the Order of Military Merit, the Korean Order. There’s a Korean name to it. It’s hard for me to pronounce. And to my good friend Ed Mastronardi
who was a Canadian Korean War veteran. And I accompanied, uh, my friend Ed Mastronardi who is now 90 years old and we’ll be interviewing him later, uh, to this affair at the Bell’s Corners Legion, and I happened to sit beside Jung Woo I think cause my, one of my dining partners, and we started chatting about, uh, the Korean War and our veterans and so on, and he mentioned this project that is underway, The Digital Memory Project and asked if I could perhaps organize some Canadian veterans to be part of this, uh, project, and I said oh I’ll see what I can do,
and now here we are.
I: That’s great, isn’t it? I’m from Syracuse, New York, Central New York which is very close to Ottawa, and I never been to the, you know, to conduct a series of interviews of Korean War veterans of Canada. So it’s great honor, and I think it’s very important to preserve their memories and to let our young children know about it.
B: Well, it absolutely is, you know. And also one thinks of the Korean War, we know it took place in Korea. One very much thinks what was a very
much an American Army effort, although it was United Nations, uh, blessed, uh, uh, campaign or War, uh, the main, uh, contribution of troops, of course, was the United States. But many people probably are not aware that, the dozens of countries contributed troops to the Korean War under the U.N. flag including Canada which, uh, sent a brigade of soldiers of over 5,000 men rotated through on three different rotations. So all told, some, almost 25,000 Canadian soldiers served in the Korean War.
And there’s not that many of them left. So I think it’s very important and useful to record their stories for posterity so people know it was more than just the United States and the South Koreans, but it was other nations as well including the Canadians.
I: Yeah. As you mentioned, the, Ed received the highest Medal of Honor that the Korean government can award
B: That’s right .
I: last December here, right here and, uh, and the LCL, uh, Legion Post Office
and you recommend me to read Mock The Haggard Face
B: That’s right.
I: Please talk about it please.
B: Mock The Haggard Face is a, is, is a Korean War novel. By that I mean it was, it’s set in the Korean War, and it was written by my good friend Ed Matronardi who won the Military Cross in Korea and also received this order of Military Merit of the Korean government. So Ed himself is quite a prolific writer in his older age, and this story tells,
it, it’s a novel, but it’s based on all the true incidents in Ed’s life and in life in a Canadian Infantry Battalion getting ready to go to Korea, it’s training in Canada, what happens when it goes down, first down to the United States to complete it’s training, some of the love interests of the various personalities in, in the Battalion and some of the people they met and then proceeding over to Korea to fight in the War, and the book tells the various dramatic events and, and things that took place, is, through Ed’s own eyes as he writes this
but as a novel form.
I: Wow. I, I read it because you recommended it
I: and I loved it. Oh.
B: Well, it’s gonna be a great Canadian war movie, aye, we can, and also Canadian Korean produc, co-production hopefully.
I: Yeah. We talked about it last night over the dinner that your wife provided and prepared and was gorgeous. And, uh, I think we need to make a really one movie out of it at least, right?
B: Well, I think so. I, I think it has all the, all the ingredients that would make for a tremendously good war movie
with, with, with the war aspects in it, with romance, with human relationships, with, uh, uh, great bits of color and personality in some of the characters. So I think it would be a wonderful book to, to write. And I was saying, I think the [CHAP WE NEED BEHIND TO GRUB STAKE] or to bankroll such a thing and to show a bit of pride in it would be James Cameron who is, who I would suggest who is known for writing the Titanic cause we know that in the United States, Steven Spielberg has been a great war movie producer with Saving Private
B: Ryan. I’m thinking a bit of a, a,
professional competition between, uh, James Cameron and Spielberg, uh, and Cameron saying I could do a movie just like Private Ryan but with this other Canadian connection to it, and perhaps it would do very well.
I: Absolutely. I wish that we can have him here, right?
B: Yeah, and it’s also an American connection, too, because the love interest, of course, is the woman in the story that Ed, the young platoon commander, uh, falls in love with. This is Paul Anderson who maybe read as Ed himself in some of these, uh, sort of hidden vignettes of Ed’s life that he’s only
B: Yeah. And he’s
only been able to put out really in a novel form because, uh, to protect the, the innocent I guess.
I: I was wondering who, who we can pick up for that, uh, role.
B: Well, that’s
I: And Martin and Paul Anderson.
B: That would be good to, to think about, yeah. I’m sure there are many actors that would love to get involved in a film like this.
B: But Mock The Haggard Face is an absolutely wonderful, wonderful story. And Ed had it, he actually had it self-published. But it’s available on Amazon, uh, .com or you can order it through the internet as a Kindle book and also Barnes and Nobles as well and also
in the U.K.. So well done to Ed who is a 90 year-old author making such a wonderful novel.
I: Thank you for your recommendation. Uh, you yourself is a war historian, and you are retired from Canadian Army
B: That’s right.
I: RCR, right?
B: The Royal Canadian Regiment, that’s correct.
I: Yes. So would you please give us a big picture of Canadian Army and how RCR become involved in the Korean War. So give us some pic, bug picture of Canadian Army and who were in, uh,
in the Korean War.
B: Alright. The, the Canadian regular Army is very small. It, it always has been small. When it’s gone into war in the First World War and the Second World War, it, it did so with, with a mobilization of the mass, the nation in arms so to speak. But whenever there was not a world war, the Canadian military was very small, very shrunken. And so in, in 1950, there were only sort of t here regiments of Infantry in the Canadian Army, and one of these was the Royal Canadian Regiment of which I am part of. So when, uh, the Korean War broke out,
uh, the government actually didn’t send its’ regular Army over because it was very small. After World War II, they demobilized, and there was probably not more than 15,000 in the Army. But the RCR had, uh, they raised what they call a Special Service Force, a second battalion of each regiment. So my regiment, the Royal Canadian Regiment, the Royal Van Doos which is the French-Canadian Regiment and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the third Infantry Regiment, they all raised special second battalions, and it was these
second battalions of the Regiment that first went over to create a fight because the government didn’t want to give its’ complete Army over to the Korean War.
I: Um hm.
B: It needed to keep them back home in Canada. So they raised that second battalion, and Ed and all the, a lot of these veterans, went over who were, most of them were veterans of the Second World War or came out of the Canadian Militia. Later when they realized this War is going to be more than six months long, they then sent the regular battalions over. They rotated through, and eventually a third battalion. So by 1953 we had three battalions of each regiment
had gone over there. So these three regiments, in fact, are the heart of the Canadian Army today. They, they, they exist, uh, as regular force units, and they are each of three battalions right now in the year 2016. So the veterans of these regiments are still highly honored, and we meet with them on a regular basis, and they come and we do social events and so on and, again, one of these is this Korean Veterans Association that we have here in Ottawa that is where they come together, the old Korean War veterans. But they’re very much connected to
the regular Canadian Army today through their, through their service cause once you’re a member of a regiment, you never leave it. You’re in it for life.
I: Um hm. So tell me about yourself. First of all, what is your birthday?
B: I was born the 10th of June, 1950.
I: Tenth of June, 1950.
B: That’s right, almost to the time the Korean War started. So
B: That’s right.
I: Um hm.
B: And my, my father was a veteran of the Second World War and, uh, uh, we’re strong old Canadian background myself as the name Near, N-E-A-R
originally German and became United Empire Loyalists in, uh, the late 1700’s when they came to Canada. But I’ve always had a military vet in me as a, as a, as a young boy and always wanted to be in the military, and I took that opportunity when I went to University and I joined the, the local militia, a Reserve unit, and once I finished University, four years of, of studies, I went into the regular Canadian Army and was taken into the Royal Canadian Regiment. So I spent a whole career of 38 years in the, in the Royal Canadian Regiment.
I: Thirty-eight years in RCR.
B: Of service, yeah.
I: Wow. Where were you born?
B: I was born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada which is, uh,
B: Yeah, Woodstock, and that’s down by London, Ontario. I would say if you know Detroit and you know Toronto, it’s halfway between Detroit and Toronto and Southern Ontario.
I: Um. So did you know anything about Korea when you were growing up?
B: I knew about the Korean War cause I always liked
military history and, uh, I can’t say I knew any, well, come to think of it, it, where my father’s work was, he had some Korean War veterans working in his factory where, my dad was a factory worker, textile factory. And I knew that he mentioned that, uh, various men, I sort of picked at his background hearing. I thought well he was in, he was in Korea or he served with this Regiment and so on. So I knew about the Korean War from there and, of course, the local legion parades and things like that. But, of course, the Korean War was very small relative to the
Second World War. So not all that many people served in it. And most of the veterans I knew at the time were, or my father’s vintage, were Second World War. But I did know about the Korean War through history and through a little bit of, uh, of socialization within the people we, we, we lived with and worked with.
I: Um hm. And how it’s been received in the Canadian people about the Korea and Korean War that, as you know?
B: Well, you know it’s called the Forgotten War, and I don’t know if it’s called that just in Canada or
elsewhere. But, uh, and also part of it was it was considered to be a police action for political reasons. It was downplayed as a war despite the fact that Canada had 516 killed in Korea and three or four times that many that were wounded. Uh, but the Korean War itself, you’ll see it engraved on the war memorials and the monuments. But it was overshadowed by the Second World War and the Cold War t hat followed beyond it. So it doesn’t really get a lot of
play mainly because it’s, there were not that many people relative to the population that, the served in Korea compared to the Second World War where every grown man
I: Um hm
B: of military age served. Korea was an all volunteer thing, so it was a little different.
I: So do you know of any Korea and Canada bilateral relations and history? Anything that you know.
B: Oh, only in the last two or three years since I’ve, uh, been involved with our RCR veterans and with, with the,
who are very well treated by the Koreans by the way. I know that, uh, Korean government has invited our veterans to various affairs, your social functions and things like this. I’ve been to the, your Embassy. Once I received an invitation, I think this was last year, because I am President of our Regimental Association, I’ve gotten to know the Korean military attaché here, Colonel [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, uh, I’ve been able to have somebody, attend some of these social events and by this I, I’m able to learn a little more about Korea.
But otherwise, uh, it was very little. It’s just not a common, really a country, we know, of course, wonderful Korean products like the, the, the Hyundai car which my, my daughter drives and, uh, you know, the Korean restaurants and things like that. But I’ve not had a real good personal exposure to it myself, so I’m looking forward to it. But this, uh, uh, getting to know you, Jung Woo and, uh, other members of the Korean Association here in Ottawa.
I: So what was your specialty in RCR?
B: In the Royal Canadian Regiment, I was an Infantry Officer. As I say, those three regiments are Infantry regiments. So I served, uh, my career in, in an Infantry battalion, starting out as a Lieutenant and going through
to be Captain, Major and so on. And I was an intelligent, I served in the Intelligence, uh, I was the unit Intelligence Officer as well. But I also did staff jobs, uh, various staff jobs in Ottawa and elsewhere. So it’s, uh, a full, a fully rounded career which I’m very proud of and, uh, thought it was a, a great, uh, a great life experience for me.
B: Now I still continue in the RCR because I mentioned you never leave the Regiment. You, uh, you just transfer from some of the active components to the
retiree component, and I’m the President of the RCR Association here in Ottawa and, uh, work very closely with our Korean veterans that we have and, uh, some of these are actually World War II veterans as well for the same time give connec, connectivity to the serving members of our Regiment. What’s interesting as well, the Korean War is perpetuated within our, within the Royal Canadian Regiment by, we have the Hill 187 Competition, and that was 3rdBattalion fought the big battle of Hill 187 in, in, I think, in early 1953, uh, where they suffered, oh, more than a dozen,
maybe 15 casualties and, uh, this is commemorated today, uh, with a competition in Camp Petawawa where 3rdBattalion of the RCRS where they do patrols and so on, and they, and they set themselves up for, uh, competition between the platoons, and the winning platoon gets a trophy, and I think it’s a Chinese Burp gun that was actually captured at the Battle of Hill 187 in Korea.
I: Hm. In addition to your specialty of being Infantry, you told me that you were a war historian
B: Well, I studied Military History, yes. I, well I wrote the Regimental Standing Orders for the Royal Canadian Regiment. Also, the doctrine manual for the Canadian Army, on the Canadian Army.
I: You wrote the doctrines for the Canadian Army?
B: That’s r right, CFP300, Canada’s Army. This was the foundational doc, it’s the foundational doctrine manual of the Canadian Army that establishes the [RAISE ON] debt of the army, it’s requirements for professionalism in the military [ETHOS] and how it approaches operations.
I: When was it published?
B: Nineteen ninety-eight.
I: Nineteen ninety-eight.
I: So you are the author of the doctrine.
B: Well I am,, it, but it went through, uh, various editing and review board. So it had to be, pas muster by all the Generals and, uh, various people that it was circulated around to because it, it was about a three to four year writing effort cause it went through so many revisions and commentary and so on. So I would take all of these comments and that and, and structure the manual to reflect some of these ideas. But essentially, it was the concept I had put together, uh. We, we did this because at the end of the Cold War, we had no doctrine that was, uh,
that could address the new security environment. At the same time, we had these various issues with the Army, uh, scandals and things like this that evolved, uh, from badly trained and poorly disciplined soldiers, and we had to correct that. And so this manual was intended to do that.
I: What are the main epitomes, main, main points of the doctrines that you
B: It’s the military ethos of the Canadian Army centered on duty, integrity, discipline and honor, and these four precepts of the military ethos are expressed, expressed and explained in some detail
as is the whole concept of military professionalism. So a person that picks up this book understands what it is to be a professional soldier and be what the particular ethical precepts or ethos precepts are, this duty, integrity, discipline and honor are for a soldier and how they must live their lives as soldiers.
I: Oh, that’s great. It’s honor to mee the author of the doctrines.
B: Yeah. CFP300, that’s the easiest way to remember. CFP300 Canada is Army and, uh, it’s lasted fairly good. I understand it, it’s going to go through some refreshing.
But the fundamental principles are what, I think, remain sound.
I: So as a President of RCR Association, you been working with many Korean War veterans here belonging to the RCR, right?
B: As many as we have, yeah. All of our ones in the RCR, yes. We have about five or six that are still active, and I, we’re active with them, and I make sure they get, uh, drive. We meet once a month in the Officers’ Mess downtown in Ottawa here, and we bring them over, uh, to join the rest of the Regiment, uh, the, the retired buys and the serving guys as well because within the
Headquarters here in Ottawa, we have a number of Royal Canadian Regiment officers and soldiers that are doing their day to day jobs here. So we gather once a month in the Mess where we bring the retired, uh, RCR together with the serving RCR and we get together for a beer, and we’ll have maybe a guest speaker or we’ll have a presentation on some subject. So it’s very good to keep the, that Regimental connectivity alive between the retired guys and the serving guys, and I say these retired guys go right back to the Second World War and Korea plus all through the Cold War and now serving today, and the guys that have been to Afghanistan
and, uh, various places around the world. So it’s a very nice, tight, uh, connectivity we try and maintain.
I: Um hm. So as a President of RCR working with Korean War veterans, what do you see the legacy of the Korean War and Korean War veterans from Canada?
B: Well, well, well I think
I: What is the importance, historical importance and historical meaning that we need to remember?
B: Uh, I think that, that young men who were prepared to go and,
and, and fight for a, a cause that they believed in, in, in Korea, you know. This is the time when Communism was on the march, uh. They were, the, the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Crisis had taken place, uh. There was concern of what the Soviets moving in, and I’ve talked to some of these actual Korean War veterans, and people say well that, that, people would suggest, well that, that really wasn’t important. Actually, a number of them were. The, they were, Canadians at the time were frightened of Communism. They hated Communism, and they were prepared to defend against it including, uh, this little country of Korea that had
been invaded. So I think that’s a great legacy for us to recall is that Cana, young Canadian men were prepared to go and to give their lives in some cases for the defense of freedom and democracy as it was being, uh, demonstrated in, in the Korean War as was required. So our guys did a great job there.
I: So what do you think about the current contemporary relationship between Canada and Korea?
B: Well, it’s mainly a trade relationship. I think it’s very good, and I see it here in Ottawa. I, I think the, uh, Korean Embassy and the, and, you know, the military [ODDESSY] Colonel Choi and the, the new Ambassador.
They’re all very good for maintaining this close relationship with the, with Canada and the Canadian people. I know you have, uh, for having this, uh, uh, how, how you would explain it, an educational, uh, fair with the teachers to get the teachers informed so they can tell the students about what the Korean war was about and also how Korea has come along into, and is, uh, very responsible member of the Untied Nations and is contributing to, to, to, to peace and well being and, uh, uh, a very powerful economic country as well.
I think it was number 11 now in the world as, with the GDP and so on, and it’s, I know it’s famous for making the, all the, all the oil tankers and the ships. There’s a wonderful shipping industry in Korea. So I think, uh, but most Canadians really don’t know a lot about it, and I think the more opportunity they have to learn through events like this and through, you know, things that are being sponsored by the Embassy and perhaps travel to Korea, tourism opportunities is a wonderful thing. So I think it’s, it’s great.
I: Excellent point, excellent point. I think there are many Koreans emigrated to Canada.
Many in Toronto and, and also Vancouver area and also in Ottawa, too, right?
B: Well, we have this Canadian Senator, um, Mark, what’s
I: Yonah Martin.
B: Yonah Martin, aye, and, uh, she’s very good at promoting the, the Korean presence, think within Canada here. And, uh, I think it can only be for the better when countries and people get to know each other more and have these, uh, experiences, be it cultural, be it, uh, what the, what the different foods and coming together as your Embassy holds receptions and that.
Just to bring Canadians into and exposure of Korea cause most Canadians really don’t know a great deal about it cause it, it is very far away, and it’s not part of our traditional cultural relationships. But certainly it has potential to develop,, and I would encourage that.
I: Um hm. Introduce your family please, your wife and your children.
B: I wish they were here. They could introduce themselves.
B: My, my wife Vera, I’ve been married, uh, in 1978 so we have a beautiful, a loving marriage and relationship, produced, uh, three, uh, fine children, and I have a boy now, uh,
31 who is, uh, into the Canadian Army Reserves and, uh, a full, and hopefully he will may, perhaps go into the regular Army at some point. I have a daughter, Alexis, who is a nurse practitioner and just finished seeing that training up in her Masters’ from Queens University, and I have a younger son Michael who is age, uh, just turned 25, and he’s working down in Toronto in the security business.
I: Must be a proud father, huh?
B: I’m very proud.
B: I have a wonderful family. It’s been very good to me.
I: You know, I have to sincerely thank you for everything that you put onto this project, you know.
And it’s my honor and great pleasure to be associate with the President of RCR and who really cares about the Korean War veterans from Canada, your own country. And I hope that this relationship will expand so that we can include more stories, never been heard and never been told, the stories of the heroes of the Canadian Korean War veterans. And I wanna thank you again, okay?
B: You’re most welcome. It’s been an honor and a pleasure for me as well.
I: And I want everybody knows that it’s been sponsored by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of the Republic of Korea.
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