Claude Charland was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada 27 February 1929. He enlisted in the Canadian Army as an infantryman in the second battalion. While in Korea, he served as a platoon commander and led men into combat on numerous occasions. While in Korea, Charland and members of his regiment (the Van Doos) organized hockey games on the frozen Imjin River. He says that being able to play his countries national sport allowed him to forget about the war for a little while. After the Korean War, Charland served with the Canadian Army until he retired in 1982.
Claude Charland describes his revisit to South Korea. He describes the economic growth of South Korea as a miracle. He explains how the comparison is so expansive to what South Korea was to know. He makes the argument that it is very important strategically to the region as a commercial hub.
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Helping the Hungry
Claude Charland describes the most vivid memory he has of his time in Korea. He shares the experience of a Korean family while on the front lines. He describes how he and his platoon led a Korean family down a hill to recuperate the food that the family had stored before the war.
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The Hardship of Just Living
Claude Charland describes how hard it was to stay clean while serving on the front lines. He describes where they lived. He describes the attack by the bugs. He describes the weather and how it affected his living conditions..
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Share the Wealth
Claude Charland describes how the troops would share with everyone any goods/letters that were sent as part of a care package. He describes it as a party. He speaks about the camaraderie this experience created. He says this helped everyone feel less lonely.
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Hockey During Reserve
Claude Charland remembers how he and other Canadian troops played ice hockey on the frozen Imjin River during January. He shares how the games were organized around teams from different regiments and were set up as a round-robin tournament. He shares how playing the national sport of his homeland allowed him to escape the reality of war for a little while.
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Letters from Home
Claude Charland details the different people with whom he would correspond during his time in Korea. He describes how there were certain things that he could only write about with certain companions. He explains how with one penpal he could discuss the war, but would not do that with his letters to his mom or girlfriend back home.
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Claude Charland: My name is Claude Charland. C-H–C-L-A-U-D-E
C: Charland C-H-A-R-L-A-N-D.
I: Alright. And that’s uh–French?
C: Well, it’s from French Canada. Let’s put it this way, yes.
I: Yes. What is your birthday?
C: My birthday is 27 February–
I: So, you born in the year of Great Depression?
C: Exactly on the Great Depression year, yes.
I: Hm. Where were you born?
C: I was born in Montreal.
I: So, tell me about your family, siblings when you were growing up. How was it? And how many brothers and sisters and your parents?
C: I–I–I’m a lone child, first of all. And uh–since it was the hard times uh,
I was fortunate to be educated first of all, at what we used to call an organization that was called a kindergarten.
C: Which was run by nuns.
I: Wow. So, you attended kindergarten.
C: The–the–the providence yes, kindergarten and uh–from that point on, of course, I was a boarder for many years. And, in that sense, I never missed uh–not having sisters or brothers
because there were brothers all around and little sisters all around so uh–. I grew pretty well in a gregarious type of environment, rather than a lone child at home.
C: Uh, from uh–from kindergarten, which at that time included uh–let’s say uh– primary school–
C: grades. Then I went to a college called Mont Saint Louis College.
In Montreal. Now, in those days, the term college applied to secondary and post-secondary school and then the equivalent of graduate college now, as it is. Uh–the structure of that time was about like that. Mont-Saint-Louis College of–in other terms was also a scientific type of–
I: By the way, just spell that name of the college Mont Sant–
C: Mont-Saint-Louis. [In French accent]
Mount Saint Louis. [In English accent]
I: Oh, Mount Saint Louis.
C: Yeah, Mont-Saint-Louis College. College Mont-Saint-Louis [in French]. Which was run by the Christian brothers, by the way. And it was their–let’s say their uh–their supreme type of level of teaching and type of organization in Montreal. And, of course, competing with the classical colleges at that time. If, I’m trying to explain–
I: Yeah, yeah.
C: –the system at that time.
And uh–it was uh–bilingual oriented, because it had been, first of all, founded by a Irish Catholic community–
C: in 1888.
C: So, it had uh–you know, it had some history behind it. And uh– of course, the type of bilingual organization behind the college allowed us to learn English and become uh–partly, if not fully bilingual
By the time we finished our studies there.
I: Mm-hmm. What did you study? What was your–
I: Did you have–did you have a major?
C: I–I eventually majored in arts.
C: And eventually went to University of Montreal and studied in Industrial Relations after that.
C: So really, I was not scientifically oriented if we–if one may describe that, but more arts oriented.
C: Or more uh–in those days, they used to call them, you know the uh–
Like the type of law, medicine, and so on. The type of orientation toward long term careers in that sense.
I: I see.
I: Let me ask this question. So, you are very well-educated um, at the times, and did you learn anything about Korea?
C: In those days, no. No.
I: Even you well educated.
C: Well, well-educated of course, we knew about Asia.
C: But whether we–we never identified anything that was like Korea–
C: –in those days, you know. We knew where Asia was, we knew where China was.
C: Uh, India and–and other types of country, Japans. But, it was rather superficial, you know, it was really far, far away uh–of course being–being a–of a background of a French origins uh–not only because I was French speaking
but you know, the orientation was still with Europe and at the time, I was there, I was there from the period of uh–early January ’52–
C: To uh–almost end of September ’52.
C: Yeah, I’m talking in Korea.
C: Right. So, uh–the war was still going on. Of course, it had gone into uh–lets say the type of war of patrols as we called it this days
and uh–very stable type of organization on the front line. But uh, to get to know the country, I couldn’t say I–I knew the country at all.
I: So, what is Korea now?
C: Well, Korea, I had the chance to go back twice uh–lately and uh–its uh–I called it the miracle society.
C: If I can use that term because the–the comparison is so–
–is so wide. So–so large. So, in–so improved, you know, when you come from ruins to what is now an industrial, technical–highly technical know-how country. Uh, exporting all over the world almost.
C: Having a great influence into the distributions of goods and–and commodities throughout Asia and when, you know, historically
speaking, you think in terms of what Pusan was, now Busan is uh–its become uh–you know, I compare–I try to compare this in–in the back of my knowledge with what used to be Beirut as the hub of the Mediterranean.
C: And uh–now, I–I I’m tempted to say that Seoul–not Seoul, but Busan and South Korea
are becoming the hub of Asia in the distribution of goods and what not and–and the exchange of uh–of commerce–commercial exchanges and so on. Trade and so on.
I: When did you go back to Korea?
C: When–when did I go back?
I: Yeah, when was it?
C: I went back to Korea on what they call the revisit program, as many did.
I: Right, called MPVA, Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.
C: Sure, sure, yes and that. And that was in April uh–two years ago.
I: So, 2014?
C: 2014, yes.
I: Yeah. And then?
C: And then I went back not too long ago, which was last Fall, for the Military World Games, which was hosted uh–by, of course, Korea. And when I say Korea, I’m talking in terms all the time of South Korea.
I: Yeah, right. [laughs]
C: Okay? So uh–I was uh–fortunate to be invited as to be part of the Canadian Delegation as a Korean veteran
uh–to the World Games, where represent–you know, accompanying the Canadian athletes and the delegation to the World Games, which gave me an opportunity to go back to uh–the cemetery in Busan and uh–uh–that’s in perspective of a chat with some of my old platoon guys who were there.
I: Such a contrasting pictures of Korea in 1950, 21st Century.
C: No, no, no, no, no it’s–it’s–it’s a–it’s–
well uh–I’m trying to find the word uh– to express that. Uh, it–it’s it’s awe–awe. You know, when you saw aahhh, that’s what it is its awe.
I: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
C: You know, its–everything is moving at such a fast pace and uh–when I think in terms of what I see now.
What I’ve seen lately in Korea, uh– is not only the fruit of–of the investments that were there, because I–you know, everybody realizes that there was a lot of help given to Korea to rebuild, and so on, but it’s the way that this help has been handled in re–the reconstruction of the country.
C: And–and the commitment of the–
of the people and the resilience of–of the people of Korea because, if you compare this with other areas in the world where help is–is provided and nothing happens. Or so–so little happens and you’re looking for where the funds have all gone and so on.
C: This is not the case in–in–in–this is–you know, this–an example that can be coated across the whole world as to how these people have come up you know, over a period of 60 years, beyond.
And lets face it, Canada could learn a couple of lessons. Uh–you know, we thought we were a part of uh–close to being– become of the 8th um–I’m far–I think you’re going to beat us there, so. [laughs]
I: Thanks to your fight.
C: Well, sure, sure.
I: Thanks for your sacrifice.
C: But uh–but uh– this is why, when you look back as a soldier who participated in there that you came back and some of there left there uh and the families
that were disturbed and so on. Uh the–there is one expression that I use when I see what happened is that quote unquote it was worth it.
C: And one day an old man and his family all dressed in white with their black hats and so on and–and their A frames on their back arrived in the platoon position. And it was hard to communicate, so I asked for interpreter to come right
to my platoon position. We were having breakfast and the best thing I could do at that time was to say while we’re waiting for the interpreter because I wanted to know what the hell they were doing there. They had no business in terms of our task right now, to be there. So, we said okay, fine, lets share breakfast with these people. My gosh, they must be hungry and so on. So, so, we got together, you know, on the reverse side of uh–of the position and uh–so, we shared, you know whatever we had, you know,
a chocolate, you know, so on. And–and there was what seemed to me at that time, for generations in that group of about 12 people.
C: You know. Two–two little–two little almost babies who couldn’t walk. They could hardly walk. And finally, we found out that these people wanted to go down in the huts down below because that was their place. And that’s where they had hidden food that they wanted to retrieve from.
C: They wanted to retrieve the food that they had hidden in the serpentine, you know that–that heating system of these huts–
C: –is underneath the floor. And he put the fire at one end, and it goes the other end. They had hidden food inside these things.
C: And they wanted to recuperate it. And it–it was–you know, what do I do about this? It was complete daylight and–you don’t want to expose people, you know,
going down in front of the hill in complete daylight. And especially these people were dressed in white. You know? And–I said okay, we’ll go. Two hours, no more. And we accompany you. And after two hours, you do your thing and you–you come back with us. And to see the change of–in the face of the people when we said go, we accompany you.
We cut them down through the barbed wire what not, so on. And they did their thing and they brought bags on their A frames and they went away happy as hell. And that was one of the contributions that stayed with us all the time. And–and that, if you’re asking me, you know, what do you remember of the–you know, that’s what I remember most of Korea.
I: [laughs] Yeah.
C: As far as meeting the Korean people
are concerned. Alright?
I: People to people. Mm-hmm
C: And especially those people, who were looking for food at that time. You can’t imagine. So, that part of the experience was–was something you never forget. I can still see, in my mind, sitting on the reverse slope and at that time, not only this, I had two tanks on my position, which allowed us extra rations–
C: –and extra, you know, extra goodies, eating goodies, so we shared that with them.
Uh–but then you’d–you’d say okay, so you’re focus on going back home. And that’s it. And you hope that uh–something good will come out of it eventually. And it did. As we said at the beginning, it did you know? Let’s face it, uh–it was, as I say again, it was worth it. It was worth it.
I: What kind of man are you now, after the–
going through this war? Is there any change? Is there any impact upon you and your life?
C: Well, it changed me. It made me uh–uh–[laughs] let’s–as a young–as a young uh– a young–I shouldn’t say young man yeah okay, okay, a young man to a full grown man.
C: Uh–the experience in Korea.
Immediately. Immediately. Because of what the things we were exposed to at that time. And uh–makes you think. It makes you think.
C: Uh–over the years, well I had a military career so, you know, we, you know, some 31 years in the service served me well also. And that experience, of course, helped me throughout my career.
And I’ve had a good career and uh–learned a lot from that first experience. You never forget about that. Uh–first of all what you see, what you uh–but you never forget about the friendship that you develop. In the circumstances that are, at times, very difficult circumstances. You come out of it together. You never forget that. When we meet, at times, I still meet–at times–some people that were there at that time. In fact, that corporal
at that time was decorated as an MM. He’s in Ottawa right now.
C: In this area. And we met at the yeah–at the second uh–commemoration of the Imjin Classic.
C: It was by chance and uh–it–you know, a very interesting story, to make it very short. This guy had come in and my daughter had stopped at the–at the parking lot, and this guy asked my daughter
uh–where’s the door to go to the hockey game? You know, the–the military hockey game? And she says well, its over there, you know, follow me I’m going. He says, who are you? She says–she says ‘I’m Milan Charland.’ He says, ‘what? Milan Charland?’ He says, ‘is your father Claude Charland?’ She said, ‘yes’. He says, ‘he was my platoon commander in Korea!’. [laughs]
C: And–and we met at–at that particular incident we had not seen each other for 60 years. Can you imagine?
C: And can you imagine this–
the–you know, –the–the–well, people thought we were crazy [laughs]. People thought we were crazy! [laughs]
I: We have to have this Imjin Classic here in Cornell as a part of movie, you know?
Male voice: Well, they–they do it–well, as part of a movie yes, I agree.
C: It was uh–it was beyond. Anyways so the–and this is what I mean what–what’s left of–of the people you meet. The people, the friendship you develop uh–they’re they are–things that well, they are uh–thing that remain engraved in your mind.
And you live with that. You live with the good side of things.
C: And you try and wipe out the bad side of things, alright? So let’s put it this way.
I: That’s the backbone of contemporary relationship between Canada and Republic of Korea.
C: Well, that was–
I: You are the backbone.
C: Well, I would agree with that.
I: Let me ask this. You–here and there, you talk a lot about this importance of this
whole experience during the Korean war and–and the–and–and–what is it? The implications for who we are–who we are now as a friend. How would you characterize the main legacy of the Korean War and the Korean War veteran’s legacy?
C: It is difficult to say. Up to–up to three years ago–
C: 2013 from a Canadian point of view, the Korean War was looked at, The Forgotten War.
I: You mean up to–
C: Up to–
I: –very recent.
C: Yeah, qualified as The Forgotten War.
As of 2013, 27 July is now, Canada Korean Veterans Day.
C: And that’s it. That’s the difference.
I: What is now?
C: Well, at least we celebrate once a year that day. It is not, you know–
M: Did Senator Martin not put that through? It was–it was resolution in Parliament I think.
C: Yes. A resolution.
M: Yeah, John [unintelligible name] that was charted by the senator–
C: Senator Martin.
I: Senator Martin, yeah.
M: He declared it as–yeah– remember Korea Day for the can–for Canada. So, just three years ago. And thanks to Senator Martin. So, that’s the big difference we’re talking about.
C: Of course. There’s one Canadian whose of a Korean na–origin.
C: Alright? And I don’t want to interpret her words, but definitely the way it is is that she felt–
–she has felt, right, let’s face it she’s a Senator, a Canadian Senator, but because of her background and because her family was part of it, she has the feeling that she owes something to this country.
C: And she really–once she got in a position to do it, she did it. And from all of us, our hats to her because at least we have an official day recognizing that
there was a war in Korea and that we’re–Canadian veterans from Korea and now it is, you know. That’s now–now it’s done. That’s the type of–of legacy from this part. Now, legacy at the other end well, you know, it’s a contribution. And a contribution as hart–as a part of many things. We are not the only country that provided troops to–
–at the time of the Korean Conflict. And, this–this is shared as a legacy. And uh–we also appreciate the question of the fact that we have these programs that bring veterans back to Korea. That bring their families, immediate and now even grandchildren are participating in programs to go back there.
C: To see it!
At least to try and understand. Because this gap, you know, from ’53 to 2013, you know, is a 60-year gap, good God let’s face it. I would like to make a–we said before that before at the beginning that we went to Korea we knew nothing about Korea, alright? And then, we were exposed to a devastated country and then, 60 years later, you know, there’s no comparison.
Uh–I look at the–now, now I can look and even not now, but when we came back, you know, the importance of the strategic location of the peninsula of Korea. And–and that brings us very quickly, you know, to the years and–and centuries of back and forth.
Whether they came from China. Whether they came from Japan and–whether they came from uh–the Australians or the Aussie or–or the Filipinos or–but, this–thi–this is a unique place because it is so important strategically that everybody is interested in it.
C: And I think that now, right now, Korea has found a way to handle this.
And it is by opening themselves to all those who are interested–
C: –in Korea and making sure that they do it in a good way and they may–they–they make it as something positive for the people of Korea.
I: Mm-hmm. Exactly. And we have a path ahead of us to–to achieve that is–
C: Oh, it is not finished.
I: –reunification. Right? Yeah.
C: Well, that’s the next step.
I: So, let me go back to the point where that you are–what were you doing? Were you in the college when the Korean War broke out?
C: Yes. I was still at university uh–when it broke out.
C: And uh–while, I was at university, I had joined uh–a program that was called the COTC, Canadian Officer Training Corps.
I: Uh-huh. COTC?
C: Canadian Officer Training Corps.
I: Training course, yes.
C: Yes. And this was a–
–a program whereby students enlisted in this program and uh–let’s say on the good side were–were assured of a summer employment for three years.
C: To help them pay for their studies. And at the end uh–qualified in one of the branches of the uh–of the forces and mine was uh–the infantry school.
C: And uh–while we were there, I recall that in 1950 was–we were in our third year
C: of graduation year from the COTC and the war had started in Korea. And while we were doing our third phase uh–the infantry school uh–they were forming at that time the second battalion.
C: The [French]
at the same time as other regiments were, you know, forming their regiments. Uh–in order to provide the–the ground troops for the Korean requirement.
I: So, you were in–
I: what was your unit exactly?
C: Well, I–I’m going to carry on–
C: –with this–this particular thing. So, I was an officer cadet there in my third year, which was the last year to become–to become, let’s say, commissioned. And we were called upon during this
end of the summer ’50 to go to Valcartier to help the training of recruits–
C: that were, at the time, they were forming the second battalion.
I: Second battalion of–
C: Voila [French].
I: Oh okay, okay.
C: Alright? Because we were French speaking and this–this is a French-speaking regiment.
C: And, of course, uh–at that time, uh–it was uh– left tenant colonel [unintelligible] who became later on the Chief of Defense Staff
who was forming the unit–
C: –to prepare it to go to Korea eventually. So, this is how we got in contact with our first uh–knowledge of the Korean War and it was in 1950. Uh–some of my colleagues joined the battalion right there. We were about uh–12 that had been called back to–called in to uh–
–Valcartier at the time to help the–you know the training of uh–of recruits at that time. And uh–some of my colleagues joined the battalion at that time, but I went back to University for further studies in Industrial Relations. And then, in my case, it is after the summer of ’52 that I joined and went to Korea.
I: When did you leave for Korea?
C: I left for Korea uh–this–this is very fast. I joined in October and left for Korea in November.
C: Now because uh–of course uh–
I: Where did you arrive?
C: Where did I arrive? I arrived on uh–my gosh in Korea near Inchon.
C: They w–w–w near Inchon at the time.
I: Were you–
C: Uh–if I recall the airport, I think it was K14 something like that.
I: K14? Okay.
C: Oh yeah, K14 I’m not sure.
I: Were you briefed about Korean situation at the time that you were leaving for Korea?
C: No. I must say that uh–no, no.
C: Well the–the–the–the–the–the uh–the main purpose of–of the rush at that time, when I joined, was that the battalions have been deployed–had been deployed already. Alright? And in the case of my regiment, the second battalion, they were about to reach the six months commitment. The sixth month commitment
and they didn’t want to ch–to have the whole thing change over in one shot.
I: That’s a–that’s dangerous.
C: Which normally, norm–normally would be, you know a 12 month–
C: –a 12-month type of commitment, but they had thought at that time that it would not be, you know, the right strategy at that point, as far as the Canadian Forces were concerned, to change the whole thing at one time.
C: So, I was part of the first wave to get to Korea in terms of–to be sent to Korea–
–in terms that some of the people who were deployed there could make it back home for Christmas.
C: And uh–I–I–I was not in Korea for Christmas, I was in Korea just after Christmas personally.
I: What do you mean? You said you arrived in Korea in November?
C: In November, yes. No–not in–I’m sorry, we arrived in the Far East in uh–in uh–
I: In Japan.
C: In Japan at that time.
The first–the first stop was in Japan and we had uh–bef–now rectify what I said before. The first stop was in Japan and we had a place where we went some–from environmental training–
C: In the hills in Japan in order that we could prepare–we would be ready for Korea.
C: It was a question of two weeks and that was it so–
I: So, what happened to you after Inchon where did you go?
C: I went–I went to join my battalion.
I: Where? Do you remember?
C: The battalion was in the reserve at that time when I joined it. And uh–
I: You went to the front line of–
C: We went straight–the–the–the battalion was in reserve.
C: But, we got there and three weeks later we were back to —
C: –the Samichon Valley, let’s put it this way.
I: Samichon Valley.
M: Claude, if I can ask a question as well, what rank were you at this term? Were a–
C: I was a platoon commander.
M: You were left tenant platoon commander.
C: Left ten–
I: Second lieutenant?
C: what they call a lieutenant. Yes.
I: Lieutenant? Okay.
C: A left tenant, yes. Two [unintelligible] at that time [laughs].
I: So tell me, what did you do at the front line? What was a typical duty and what did you do?
C: Uh–uh–I was lucky. I–I–I’d like to put everything in perspective there–
C: because uh–it is part of my introduction to the–the front line. As I said, I joined the battalion when the battalion was
in reserve in early January, alright? And uh–we had been waiting some way back. And we were-we was not the only one we–we were about 10 officers–10 young officers I should say who were–who had been uh–dispatched for relief uh–to relieve people who were already deployed there to come back, as I said before. And uh–my uh– I joined
I–I–I joined the battalion as platoon commander–number 5 platoon commander–number 5 platoon, B company at that time they used to call them baker company rather than bravo–
C: And uh–and at that time, Dextraze had just left–Colonel Dextraze had just left. The command had been replaced by uh– Colonel [La Valet] Colonel [Valet]. Fortunately, when I reached my platoon,
the platoon commander was one of my ex-cadet training, you know, we were–we trained–we had trained uh–together and he was one of the–the ca–the officer cadets who had joined the battalion–
C: –when we were first called back to Valcartier. And his name was Pierre [a chambo] and there was a big difference, he was 6’2” and I was 5’4” so, [laughs].
C: But, I knew him very well. Now, and what struck me more as I first came in,
as the sar–the platoon sergeant and, of course, when I met uh– [Archie a chambo] he never told me he was my platoon commander, you know, in the time that we were dep–uh–bringing back from–from point A to go–to go to point B. And my platoon sergeant was my first instructor in 1948.
C: And uh–his name was Alex Ducet–Alexandre Ducet–a New Brunswicker and I looked at him
and I said, Alex, you’ve had it [laughs].
C: You did it to me, now you gonna get it now [laughs] but that was in–that was as a joke, you know.
C: It was a–it was a very interesting uh–meeting because at least I knew the sergeant.
I: That’s important.
C: Which, introduction was not too bad with the–you know–with the troops. Uh–and then we deployed of course, on the line, and now you ask me what it is now.
Now that the war becomes static. And the question was the control of the no man’s land. You know, the distance between the–the two lines. And uh–well, dig uh night operations mostly. Uh–mostly I should say, at the time I first joined. And uh–my first patrol I was ambushed. That was my [laughs] [French]
[French] in French, as we say. And uh–and thank God that uh–we–we could get out of it, but uh–that was my first experience. And I was not the only young officer who was exposed to this type of experience right off the bat. Uh–at that time. And fortunately, uh–we were able to come back.
Uh–five wounded uh–and one of my corporals got a military metal decoration because of his action that particular night.
I: You were not wounded.
C: Nope, not me. I have five wounded though. I had five wounded. Three who couldn’t walk. And we were a little far away in the Samichon Valley, you know, was wi–wide valley and we were almost right at–at–at the bottom of the hills where–where we were supposed to go up, but we were ambushed at the bottom.
Uh–not to tell about war stories, but you know at night when it’s pitch dark and–and this happens uh–you know, a minute looks like a–an eternity [laughs] and uh–it was about 3 minutes engagement and there was hand to hand fighting and peoples–
I: Hand to hand?
I: That close?
C: People scratching the face–oh yes it when–when–people–well, we had the same purpose. The opposing troops wanted to get a prisoner
and we wanted to get a prisoner. So, it ended into a stale mate. Uh–so, eventually we could come back. And in fact, uh–we were so close there’s–there was a–a–a– river down–coming along the Samichon Valley and some of the fighting took place almost in the river and the guys were in uh–i–i–in uh–u–up almost to the–to their belts in–in the fighting.
I: You’re talking about Imjin River?
C: Yeah. Well, I–I–I don’t recall the name of that river in that valley, whether it was a river that was dropping into–
I: Into Imjin.
C: Into the Imjin.
C: Yes okay? But it was all along the valley.
C: Okay? And uh–mostly closer to the in–to–going to I should say the North Korean Chinese type of–of uh–defenses than uh–it was to ours, okay?
C: So, uh–that was my first experience
as uh–and of course–uh–that established also the type of relationship uh–a platoon commander wants to have with his people. Because up to that point, you know, the guys I was commanding had been there for six months, so they knew about it. And I was the new guy. Uh–it was very nice, you know, I looked good like a swan, but uh–it was not a question you having to prove yourself,
but this is where they recognize whether you had it or not.
C: Or they accepted it or not. Before this particular incident, it was left tenant Claude Charland, and after, it was mon lieutenant, which is uh–in connotation very, very different.
You become theirs and they become yours. Uh–and after that, of course, it carried on and uh–uh–I should say fortunately, I never was ambushed again. But, I did about what? 14, [unintelligible] the time I was there of one type of another. But, never encountered the enemy after that.
I: Wow, that’s–
C: Uh–lost people. True shelling, yes.
But, very–di–different places, you know.
I: What did you hated most during your service in Korea?
C: What did I hate most? The bugs.
C: The bugs!
I: Yeah what?
C: Well, lets face it, we were rivi–we were living in holes in the mountain.
I: And uh– in spite of the fact that you tried to remain clean
all the time. You–you’d–first of all–
I: Its impossible. [laughs]
C: you didn’t have that–you didn’t have that facility. And as the platoon commander, it was even worse. Because Platoon commanders were called, at that time, subalterns.
C: Okay? And that’s it. You’re a subaltern. So, learn your trade and uh–do your thing and uh–don’t complain uh–
I: On your own.
C: and–and that’s it, you know. Uh, but that’s alright. It was part of the game and we knew it would be like that. It–that was no surprise at that time the type of uh you know–
the–the–the–the mentality about how things were handled. Uh–of course, if we go back to Industrial Relations, it was not negotiable, but that’s alright. Uh–uh–that was the real hard part about it, I must say. Uh–having to live in those type of circumstances–
C: –and not being able to uh–not being able to at least refresh yourself and so on. Because the summers were very hot.
The nights were not too bad. But, the winters were bearable during the day, but very, very cold at night.
I: Did you have any heating?
C: Uh–well, we manufactured our own little stoves and what not [laughs].
C: You know, with old–uh–it’s a–its–the uh–let’s see–the imagination or–or–or the uh–uh–people find resources in circumstances that they think they don’t have.
I: To survive. Yeah.
C: Alright? So, you know, we built little stoves inside those–those big holes in the mountains. Uh–cans, you know, cans making the–the–the pipe–
I: Yeah, yeah.
C: to go to–to–to get the fumes out and so on and took an old–it was beyond what we did. Just–just like that. Just to make it. And people were very resourceful
in finding ways to–to beat uh–what you had to beat, whatever it was. Uh–but, there were other things. Like loneliness, no. Uh–of course everybody was lonely, the–there’s no doubt it just–we cannot hide that. Uh–but, we got mail. We got, you know, parcels from home and we used to share that amongst ourselves. Uh–and that was, let’s say, uh–
I: That’s great, isn’t it?
C: The sharing–the sharing you know, when–when we got the boxes, it was a party. You know, share that.
C: Uh–that was a good part of it. Uh–hating it. There was psychologically, there was one very difficult situation that–that lasted once the peace talks started. And the lines were there. And–and the objective was to control the no man’s land.
C: And as–as time went by, the peace stuff were not progressing fast enough.
C: You know, they say well, you sent guys out and–and you received the shells and so on. And–and–I mean–you–at times, you start to question yourself you look at these guys, you know, dragging their decisions or I will becoming impatient in the sense that we’re taking now a chance while these peace talks are going on…
[start of new interview] that there was a river that was freezing. We didn’t know the weather was that severe in–in–
C: in–in the winter. And then, of course, when–when–unfortunately, the authorities found that out, they said oh–lets–lets get some equipment. And especially since, you know, we were battalion was in reserve the–the–the brigade was in reserve
C: At that time in January. Well, you know that really launched the whole thing. So, we had, you know, it was–you know a quick type of uh–
robin competition. What we call a robin competition between the–between the units there that could–that could–in fact we had enough equipment for eight teams and uh–you know, four–four and four played in the morning and four and four played in the afternoon. So, if you were lucky, you uh–you got fresh equipment in the morning and warmed up equipment in the afternoon [laughs] but that’s alright. Nobody complained about that. And uh–
I: What an idea. What an idea of ice skating in the middle of war in Imjin River.
C: On the Imjin River.
C: And–and that’s something its not only those who were participating, you know, they are–they are pictures about this where you have this rink on the Imjin River and–and the audience, you know, the spectators around it uh–from all the units because the–these guys were–
I: That’s the reserve area, right?
C: Yeah, well at that time, yeah sure, sure.
C: And uh–they filled, you know,
I–I would say they filled the auditorium or whatever it was [laughs].
C: Uh, but of both sides–on both sides of–of the river of that uh–you know, the cheering one side uh–and so on. But, that–that–that one thing uh–is something that kept–kept your mind away from all–all, you know, the–the–the things we didn’t like or whatever, because when you were there you forgot about everything and you were really sometime back home
because you were on the ice skating and playing your national game.
M: Did you play yourself?
C: Yes I did, yes. I was part of the uh–well, on one of the pictures uh–
M: Were you a left wing or right wing or what?
C: I was a right winger. [laughs]
M: Right wing? Okay.
C: Very small at that, but however. Uh–but it was good fun. And this is why we have in commemoration now since–since three years ago, in 2013, the inauguration of the Imjin Classic.
Started here in three years ago. Uh–under the auspices of–of Senator Martin, by the way. And uh–the first uh–commemoration was on the–on the canal here. Uh–the Rideau Canal in Ottawa uh–which launched this whole thing. And now, its really carried on later on in, you know, in partnership with the senator and the embassy and Colonel Troy and all this and very enthused about this whole thing.
Uh–and, of course, the–the uh–the two teams that are represented uh–in this particular competition are the Pats and the Van Doos. The Patricias and the Royal Van Doos Regiment. Because those were the–the two teams that eventually, you know, fought for–for the cup. On the Imjin River.
I: Really, at the time in Imjin River?
C: Yes, yes.
I: So, you were not just among Van Doos, but it was between–
C: Oh–between yes!
I: PPCRI and–
C: It was a–it was–oh yes oh–it was a brigade type of organization.
I: And RCR too?
C: The RCR, the Van Doos and–
I: So, who won?
C: And eh?
I: What was the score? [laughs]
C: Oh, well, [laughs] we–we claim that we never lost [laughs]
I: [laughs] is that true or not?
C: [shrugs] we never lost [laughs]
I: Okay [laughs] that’s it, right?
C: No, because–because there was not only the three infantry regiment that had a team. The artillery had one.
And then, there were other units that did not have–the–let’s say the–the–the man power or whatever–the size to–to–to–to compete as–as a team, so they–they–
I: Were there any international game?
C: they–they–they got together. No, no, no they were strictly Canadian. We uh–we had–
I: So, you didn’t invite Americans to join you?
C: I don’t–I can’t say we didn’t invite them [laughs]
[start of new interview]
C: Well that–that was, from my point of view, you know, a real–a real uh–pick me up type of thing.
I: What else? Anything that balanced that–your spirit at the time?
C: Well, uh…
I: Must been a letter? Letters from–from your family?
C: Oh well, yeah, oh sure, sure, sure well…
I: You were married at the time?
C: No, I was a single boy and I the only–
I: Single boy. Did you have a girlfriend back home?
C: I had a gir–I had a girlfriend back home and we corresponded.
C: But uh–not only one girlfriend corresponded with me.
C: Oh, back you know, by–I had what they call a pen pal.
C: Uh–another girl that was uh–new P.O. the platoon commander I replaced and uh–when he went back home, he organized this type of exchange with this particular girl. And uh–that–that helps quite a bit. Let me see–that’s for sure.
I: Yeah. Tell me, be honest, when you receive the letter from the girl how is it like in the middle of war in Korea nowhere–no man’s land. How is it?
Is it–does it help you, actually? Does it help you?
C: The more–the moral–yes it–well, when you–when
I: The fact that you got some letter from somebody, that helps you but–
C: That–that–that helps you. That helps you.
I: But you have to think about this friends you know, beyond your reach and you don’t–you don’t know where–how long you gonna last there and–don’t–don’t–don’t–doesn’t that make you feel more miserable?
C: No, it didn’t make me–me feel no, no that–that. Receiving news from home, or news from somebody that–my–my first girlfriend of course didn’t know–didn’t know about Korea.
C: But, the second one knew about Korea because the–the–the pers–the person I replaced knew her and must have explained to her, but she knew about some of the circumstances of how we lived, and so on. But, I got correspondence also from my mother.
C: And my mother, you know, had a group of mothers around–around where she lived–not necessarily mothers of soldiers, but mothers and uh–that–you know, this is why I–I–I–you know, I regularly got, you know, those big boxes of goodies to–to–to exchange.
I: That’s amazing.
C: With and–and–and to participate and spread with–with the platoon guys, okay.
I: I just want you to–to confirm with you about more details of this joy of receiving the letters from your–
C: Well, yes.
I: –your acquaintance.
C: But–but definitely. Uh–uh–there’s no doubt about that that uh– you get that and of course, that changes your concentration. You concentrate on that. That takes you out, you know, for about 15, 20 minutes or more. And then–then you’ve got to sit down and reply. So–
I: So, did you leave Korea in the September of 1952?
C: Yes, yes.
I: Just for eight month.
I: In Korea.
C: Yeah, in Korea yes.
I: When you–when you left Korea did you–did you think about Korea future? Or did you have any mind about Korea?
C: I think that–
I: Be honest.
C: No, no uh–well, first of all uh–as I say, you know, it was devastated let’s put it this way. And–and the best way to–to illustrate that is that
while we were in Korea we were entitled to go on rest and recuperation, okay? Rest and recuperation there was no place in Korea to have that. So, we were sent to Japan.
I: R and R.
C: So, on R and R. Uh the other thing that happened when I was in Korea near Seoul there was K14 uh–which was an Air Force Base, an American Air Force Base–
I: It’s a Kimpo Air Base.
C: Well, and uh–I had been sent there on a
photo interpretation course. While on the second time battalion was in reserve, I was sent there. And uh–and that changed my mind completely, you know. The aspect was very, very different. Uh–but uh– you know and–and although the Americans uh– had everything that they could–could easily usually carry with them uh–uh–it was not the same thing. Now, when I left
Korea really, the focus was getting back home.
C: Uh–really uh–
I: No doubt about it, right, yeah.
C: You know. In fact, you say well, thank God I made it
C: and I’m going back home and that’s it. It was an experience. And especially when you–you think in terms, you know, of 20–a 22-year-old guy was commanded man in action at–at that age and gone through experiences that
very few people at that time of my age had gone, unless they were part of, you know, the military organization that was deployed there. And experienced that you know, it–it was–it was a gathering of feelings, a gathering of knowledges, a gathering of interpretation to what people are like or what they would be like or what changes them. This is what you really got inside you coming back home.
Now uh–the one thing that–that you hope was that–that would change Korea, you hope that. When I was in the Samichon Valley on–on the line that the Samichon–right in front of the Samichon Valley at the bottom of the hill–
C: was a little village. I’m talk of, you know, about 15 huts.
C: Used to call them huts because, you know,
it was [start of new interview] of Korea. You thanking–thanking us where–of course, you know, we’re fortunate in this country that uh– even in–in– well, we can talk about the two World Wars. Sure, people were affected because they had people deployed and died and so on in foreign countries and that, but we never suffered directly from–from these types of–of uh–
Situations you don’t wish–wish to have. And our mentality is that we are secured and so on. Everything is fine and what not unless, you know, you’ve been deployed to do something uh–and it’s not only you know, the people, the ground troops or whatever you were talking about the Navy, the Air Force and so on who–who have participated in these–in these uh–
wars and so on.
I: Any other points that I–I–I didn’t ask you? Anything that you want to leave to this interview?
C: Well, I think we’ve touched it. Uh–there’s two things that I really, as far as an individual–as far as I am concerned, is the resilience of the Korean people is a lesson. And secondly–
I: Why do you think that they are resilient?
C: I think it has to do with years of history. Centuries of history. I think it has to do with that. I think it has to do with uh–when I say 100 years, it may–may be 1,000 history.
C: So, and uh– of course, we talked about where it is and how the–the interest of everybody
C: towards that peninsula, okay? The uh–the other thing is that uh–one must recognize uh–I’m speaking for myself and I’m quite sure it’s so–it–it–it is the same with many other people who have participated in the war in Korea, whether Canadians or others is the–the appreciation shown by the Korean people.
C: Towards those who have helped them come out of it. I’m taking this as an example, alright? We have a tulips festival where during the second World War they crowned people from Holland, or the Netherlands as they call them, came here, survived as, you know, and so on–and as a gift ever since have been provided all the tulips required to do this festival here in Canada. As it is become an institution.
It’s–it’s only an example but, as people say yes, thank you very much and so on, people in Europe uh–are also very thankful, happens once a year, you know, it’s–it’s–it’s–right now, it is not the same with Korea as far as we are concerned, alright?
C: It’s more than once a year, but years tell, you know, after all, let’s face it.
Years tell. Things change. And uh–what is the best change we wish that will happen is that both Korea would be together. That’s about the size of it. And that takes time. And people must be patient and uh–there are opportunities and opportunities as far as I’m concerned, comes from China.
I: Uh-huh that’s a good–interesting point. Interesting point.
I: Any–any other?
C: Well, thank you for the Korean people for having given me the chance to go back twice.
[End of Recorded Material]
This is a photo showing Claude Charland before leaving for Korea in his military uniform.