Jerry Bowen was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1925. He graduated high school in 1942, joined the Navy and served three years in World War II. After being discharged in 1945 and joining the public service, he realized that he wanted to go back into the military- a decision that led to a lifetime career in the Royal Canadian Regiment until retirement in 1974. He remembers dangerous moments he experienced in Korea, which he describes as a “war time place.” He recalls passing through the rubble of Seoul, but is amazed at the growth that Korea has seen since the war. He rarely talks about the war except with those who have also had the experience.
When asked about dangerous moments, Jerry Bowen describes exchanging mortar fire with the Chinese in formation in front of his camp. He got some mortar bombs and went up to the top of the hill, but feared the Chinese would ambush them. He describes using hand grenades and the other events of that night in detail.
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Conditions in Seoul
Jerry Bowen describes passing through Seoul that was "a mass of rubble" that had been badly beat up, full of barbed wire and trenches. He describes being amazed at the differences in the city now. He has never gone back to Korea because they do not go where the trenches were, but he does know what Korea is like today. Jerry Bowen compares the growth of Seoul to that of London during World War II.
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"A Wartime Place"
When asked what Korea is to him now, Jerry Bowen describes Korea as "the place he fought." He vaguely remembers living in trenches, tents and dugouts when not on the front lines. It says it was a "war time place."
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Personal Impact of the War
Jerry Bowen the 'horrors of war' always being in the back of his mind. He will only talk about it with others that have been through it. He says he is puzzled at how the Korean War is often forgotten, saying his family never has.
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Jerry Bowen: My name is Jerry, J-E-R-R-Y Bowen B-O-W-E-N. Thirteenth of October,
I: So, how old are you?
J: I’m get–I’m close to 91.
I: 91. Wow. You look very young.
J: [laughs] Well, sometimes I feel young.
I: Yeah! 91.
I: Wow. And you don’t seem to have any major problems of your health.
J: Well, it comes and goes.
I: Comes and goes. Where were you born?
I: Ottawa. So, tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.
J: Well, I was born on McLeod Street here.
J: And uh–I had uh– three older sisters, one older brother.
J: Uh, he was four years older than I. And uh, they often tell the story about uh he–as a kid, he used to throw everything over the balcony and one uh–day I was uh–uh–asleep with my mother in bed. She woke up in time to see Desmond dragging me out to balcony to throw me over [laughs]. Uh, but uh, we grew up in Ottawa.
Very happy growing up. Uh, we uh it–it was a good family. A good life. My oldest sister was married and her oldest son, John, was 14 months younger than I and uh, we all glued together, yeah.
I: So, what school did you go?
J: Well we–I attended Elgin Street School and uh–then we–uh went to an intermediate school for two years Kent Street School and then I went to Lisgar Collegiate.
I: So, when did you graduate high school?
I: When did you graduate high school?
J: Yeah. I enlisted in the Navy in 1942.
I: Mm-hmm and then did you go to war?
J: I went through three years of World War 2.
I: World War 2.
I: Where were you?
J: In the uh–North Atlantic, English Channel, North Sea, Irish Sea and the Caribbean once.
I: Hm. Caribbean?
I: Ah. And you came back and what did you do until the Korean War broke out?
J: Well, I uh–came back and uh here to Ottawa and I was discharged in November of ’45. And uh, I joined the public service then.
J: I lasted about uh, oh, six, seven months, a little vague now, and uh didn’t like it at all so, I uh
uh went down uh–Queen Street and there was an Army Recruiting Office and I went in and asked them if they’re interested in me and before I knew it, I was in the Army. [laughs]
J: Um, when I first enlisted, because I had been a communicator during the war, uh–they uh–they put me in signals.
RC signals. I wasn’t particularly happy with it. But uh–
I: Why not?
J: Well, I think I was just fed up with signals. [laughs]
J: And uh–but, I was uh–attached to the uh–cipher section under a left tenant by the name of Jack Sheen. And I sort of owe my uh–uh
J: –in the Army to Jack. Because he said, at the time, that uh, I was a smart young fellow and unfortunately, I would be lucky if I got to the rank of sergeant in the signal corps and uh–uh because they were only hiring engineers. And then and uh– he suggested that I go
elsewhere. So, I transferred to the RCR, the Royal Canadian Regiment. And at that time, they were stationed in Brockville and subsequently moved to London, Ontario as their homebase. And uh–and while I was there, uh I think I was nominated as Lance Corporal. Uh they uh–uh
I was–was appointed to serve under the–what we called then the serving soldier educational plan.
J: And that was for those who did not have a degree. And uh–so, I went to col–college here, and I went to RMC and uh–they uh–uh I served in both uh–in the foot guards here,
as I had to have a unit in Ottawa for pay purposes, I guess. And uh–I was commissioned there. Then, uh–I guess–uh–its all vague now, but–
I: Yeah, yeah. So, when did you leave for Korea?
J: In 1952.
I: Okay, and so, where did you arrive in Korea? Pusan or Inchon?
J: We–I flew over I don’t know, Gimpo Airport?
I: Gimpo, yes.
J: Its hard to remember the names.
Male voice: Yeah.
I: Yeah, but you’re good.
I: Yeah! You remember Gimpo Airport.
J: [laughs] Oh, I don’t know.
I: Yeah, what was your specialty?
J: I was a pioneer officer.
I: A pioneer officer.
J: And the specialty was demolitions
M: In what battalion, Jerry?
J: I beg your pardon?
M: What battalion?
J: I joined the first battalion of the Royal 22nd.
M: Van Doos.
M: The first battalion of the Van Doos.
M: And you went there because they were short officers and you could–
J: Well, they needed officers.
M: and you could speak French as an angle.
J: Yeah, that was it.
I: So, from Gimpo Airport, where did you go?
I: Where did you go from Gimpo?
J: Oh uh–we joined the battalion. I guess they were in reserve then, I don’t remember where.
J: And that–then uh–uh we were going to relieve an American battalion somewhere in the line and I remember Kit [Laterno] and Jack [Burslow] and I and two or three others uh went up for a week with the Americans.
Very interesting time.
J: They ga–uh–we had to wear American uniforms and uh–I–I–as a pioneer officer I was growing a beard.
J: And [laughs] they uh–uh–uh we was to meet the American soldiers of course they all stared. I wore a combat jacket with sergeant stripes on it.
They look who’s uh–this American sergeant with a beard? [laughs] uh–we had uh–that was an interesting time. Uh–Chinese I remember hit one night uh–do you know Jack [unintelligible]
M: No, I don’t.
J: Well, Jack was one of the platoon commanders up there and he was badly wounded that night. And uh–uh–the American CO’s
told us in the morning that Jack had been hit by uh–shrapnel, so we accepted that. Um, when Jack rejoined us many months later, it turned out they took 3 45 slugs out of him. Uh–and–uh when he asked why, he said he went to get magazines for a pen gun, which he had up there with him, and somebody said who’s that? And he said the American left
–or the Canadian left tenant, and that’s the last thing he remembered.
J: Whoever it was shot him with a Tommy gun. Uh anyhow uh–oh we had interesting moments. I uh–I was wanting to check the minefields to make sure they were there and uh the CO said sure, go ahead, you know, there’s certain procedure to check them.
And uh, one of them is you go through the company commander and the platoon commander, section commander and then out and they expect you back in and watch for you and uh–so I went uh–to the company commander, Oh sure, go on out there.
I: Why not? [laughs]
J: Yeah, why not? And uh–uh–the platoon commander American platoon commander says, geez I wish you wouldn’t go down there tonight. Oh why?
He said, well I got an ambush patrol down there and they’re liable to–if you stumble into them they’re liable to mistake you, you know. I said I didn’t know about it, your company commander doesn’t know about it. Oh, he says, those guys don’t know anything. [laughs]. And so, I remember calling it off that night. I was uh–in a–a–dugout with uh–uh–one of our majors, Kit [Laterno].
Kit was an old hand World War 2 vet with the Van Doos and uh–uh– we were lying on the wire uh cots, you know, made of wire and uh pickets from uh–wiring pickets and uh–I woke up in the morning and there was Kit and he was wide awake oh good morning sir and he
mmm down [pointing down] and he–his leg was outside of his sleeping bag and there’s uh–one of those snakes.
J: Yeah, wrapped around it. Oh! [laughs] so, when I [laughs] sat up, you know, the snakes head come up and I said lay still major, I’ll shoot it. [Shakes head no] Kit said no [laughs]. So, it was–
J: agreed that Kit would move and the snake would
pivot his head around and I’d grab the snake behind the–the neck there and drag him off and take him outside.
I: Was it big?
J: Well, it, that worked alright. So, I got him outside and then I took my pistol I wa–wa–wa–wa– [shooting motion] didn’t hit it once. [laughs] I turned around and Kit was staring at me, “and you were gonna shoot that off my leg?” [laughs]
but then when we went down and uh–after that I guess we–we left the Americans and uh–uh went to the battalion. First battalion was uh–in reserve and uh–subsequently we occupied the position.
I: Were there any dangerous moments?
J: Oh yeah.
I: You might have lost your life?
I: Tell me about that.
J: Oh. [laughs]
Well, when uh–the Chinese had found our position I remember there was uh–uh–uh kidney shaped formation and the Chinese used to come in to the reentrance up to the top, open fire on our lead platoons, when they would return the fire, the Chinese soldiers would jump back into the reentrance.
And we couldn’t get them ‘cause our mortars would’ve had to fire straight up and down to get them. And uh–uh–so the uh–CO’s said uh–you gotta do something about that Jerry [laughs]. So, I got a bunch of mortar bombs–
M: Who was the CO by the way? It wasn’t Allard was it?
J: Tony [Pulau] then.
J: Yeah. And uh–
–uh I–I went down to the mortar platoon and I told them they couldn’t hit their bullseye if they tried and to give me eight or nine mortar bombs, which they did. 81mm mortar bombs. And uh–we put a slap of gun cotton on each one and uh–uh–uh primer and what have you and then we went up onto [unintelligible] and uh–
uh–we worked our way up the hill to the top of [unintelligible] and my sergeant who was with my that night, Johnny Pearce, said whoops somebody has cut our trail behind us. And uh–so, I immediately assumed the Chinese had let us go through and then they were waiting to ambush us on our withdrawal. So, I had the boys
drop their packs both sides of the track we worked our way down. I pulled a grenade [laughs] and uh–uh they uh–uh password that night was shower and the reply was bath. I remember that well. And uh–suddenly out of the bushes from the bottom of the track came ‘shower’ so whoa
and my orders were I was gonna throw that grenade. The minute it went off, the boys would rush in and just sap the area. And uh–uh–I–I replied and uh–went down and it was the corporal and two men who should have been up on the right at the top–
J: –to protect us while we were mining this thing. Well, I asked him what he was doing–
–well it got lost in the–in the end of the night, you know?
J: Well, it sounded feasible because people got lost there, you couldn’t do anything about it. After this, I think it was just a cowardly move and uh–uh– anyhow, I–I remember I gave him the grenade and I said, ‘don’t let go of that, because the pin’s gone’.
J: [laughs] so there he was holding it.
And we sent them back up the thing and that. We went in and we uh–mined all around the reentrance just below the crest. And uh–then we ran the uh–the leads uh–up through the wire to the leading platoon and we gave them a battery and we told them, oh just to touch the wires to the battery and boom. And uh–the Chinese came back two nights later
and uh–he uh–uh he fired the bombs and they never came back again after.
J: Uh–I guess they assumed we moved the mortar into position we could get it. Uh–we sent a patrol in uh–after this incident and uh–they uh–found uh Chinese foot in a boot and all sorts of bits and pieces.
J: So, it worked pretty well. Uh, we were always exposed–oh yeah–coming out the German–uh Chinese machine gun I guess saw some movement opened up on us and uh–uh blasting all around and uh…
I: Were you scared at the time?
J: No, not–as I look back, I wasn’t.
J: We had a–a job to do
and that was the paramount thought. Afterwards I got a little shaky, you know.
I: So, have you–when did you leave Korea?
J: When did I leave?
J: Yeah. 14 months there.
J: Patrols every night.
I: So, what was the most difficult thing to you? Or things that you most hated when you were in Korea?
J: The weather. [laughs]
I: Weather? Why?
J: Well, yeah. I had a good platoon. They were loyal, real supporters, all but one guy.
M: This is your pioneer platoon?
J: They were all one– but one guy. And I never had to give an order. Let’s go fellas! Okay sir! Off we go.
Uh–so, I was lucky.
M: Were you operating in French all this time with your guys?
J: Pretty well. Uh, some of them uh– knew English. Uh, my sergeant was fluent and natural.
I: Did you–were you married at the time?
I: Oh! Tell me about your family then back in–back in the states.
J: [laughs] well, I was married and had two sons at that time.
I: Must been very hard for your wife.
J: And uh–oh, she did a wonderful job. And raising those boys while I was gone. And uh–I guess she was glad to see me come home. [laughs]
J: I was glad to get home too. I–Korea, you know, uh–having gone through World War 2, which was in one environment, and then Korea.
You couldn’t compare the two. They’re two different worlds.
J: Yeah. So, uh I got home uh–and then–uh was sent to uh–uh New Brunswick as a recruiting officer. A couple of years down there and then back to Wolseley Barracks in London.
I: Mm-hmm. Were you able to write letter back to your wife?
J: Oh, every day.
I: Every day you wrote?
J: Yeah, I wrote something [laughs] yeah.
I: For example, what did you write?
J: Oh, just the weather is fine and [laughs]
I: You’re lying to her [laughs]
J: Well, we never talked about operations.
I: You never talked.
J: I didn’t want to scare her.
J: You know, we were under shell fire all the time and uh–machine gun fire and what have you, you know. There was constant patrols.
We would meet the Chinese at night and Doug [Banton], Jerry [Minello] were all killed.
J: And uh–yeah.
I: How often did you receive the letter from your wife?
J: How often?
J: Oh, she wrote to me all–a lot. I don’t remember.
J: It’d probably be a week old or something.
I: Do you still have the–
J: They sent the mail to [Belville] the Army post office there.
I think it was [Belville]. They took it up to Trenton and onto an airplane.
I: Yeah. Um–how much were you paid at the time?
J: Oh God, I don’t remember. Wasn’t much.
I: Hundred dollars?
J: I was a left tenant. Whatever a left tenant’s pay was.
I: Lieutenant, right?
I: Yeah. And what did you do?
J: I guess about uh–$150 a month or so.
And what did you do with that money?
J: Sent most of it home. It wasn’t paid to me, I assigned it home, you know.
I: Oh, bank account to home.
J: Yeah. Yeah.
J: It went to my wife.
I: Very nice.
I: Hm. Did you–
J: I think that was about the rate of the pay for a left tenant then.
I: Mm-hmm. Did she have a job at the time?
I: Did she have–
J: Oh no.
J: She was raising the boys.
I: So, you were– you were making a living for them.
M: Where was your wife living, Jerry?
J: Uh, we were living in Aylmer, Quebec.
M: Oh, just across the river.
M: Was she a French Canadian too, or was she English?
M: She was English.
I: Did you know anything about Korea before you left for Korea?
J: Did I what?
I: Did you know anything about Korea?
J: Well we uh–not an awful lot.
J: As you know, North of the Imjin River uh–there were no uh– people up there.
I had a house boy–
J: –who was a–a young [su ki oh] and uh–we called him Johnny. He was the Korean I had any contact with up in uh–North of the river. And uh–I went to Japan on leave once. And I don’t think I ever had any contact with uh–Koreans.
I: Were you in Seoul Korea?
J: Yeah. I passed through Seoul. It was just a mass of rubble. Uh–it’d been badly beat up, you know? And uh–barbed wire, old trenches, yeah it was smashed up. Yeah. I am amazed when I see pictures of Seoul now and–
I: Now. [laughs]
I: You’ve never been back to Korea?
I: No? Do you want to go?
J: No, well I never went back because uh–they don’t go up to where the old trenches were.
J: And — [meant nothing to me then]
I: Yeah, because it’s no man’s land right now.
J: That’s it.
I: DMZ. And so, you saw–you tell–you did tell me that uh–you saw the uh– picture of Seoul Korea now.
I: Do you see the difference?
J: Oh yes! It’s a big city now.
It–it wasn’t when I was there [laughs].
I: Certainly not.
I: What do you think about that?
J: Oh, I think that’s wonderful that they can restore a–a–now, World War 2, you know, I was in London many times.
J: Uh–been back there several times and uh–you know, the British people restored London.
J: Then in Korea, they restored Korea.
I think it’s wonderful what they’ve done, really. Korean people were very nice to us. Uh we saw–we didn’t see much of them, but anything we saw was good.
I: Ah. So you have a very good memory of–
J: Oh, my memory’s gone now.
I: [laughs] no, I’m talking about you have some idea about how Korean people were able to–
J: Well, I am interested in the fact that the–uh–you know, they come here to visit us at the hospital?
J: And they’re always nice to us. Always.
I: That’s natural. I mean, obvious. You fought for us, we want to come here and say thank you and be nice to you.
J: Well, it may be natural, but I think they overdo it maybe.
J: They’re really in there. One of them’s a senator, Martin.
M: Yeah, Martin, senator Martin.
M: Yeah, we met her yesterday.
I: Do you like her?
J: Oh yes.
I: Yeah, she is godmother of Korean War Veterans in Canada, right?
J: Well, she shows up at everything. She’s a real princess.
I: So, what is Korea to you now?
J: Korea is a place I fought.
Korea… you know, all I can do is vaguely remember as a living in trenches, living in a dugout uh–rest behind the lines where you move back and you gave up the dugout for a tent and uh–it was just a wartime place.
I: The Seoul you remember was completely devastated, right?
I: The Seoul.
I: Seoul we–you remember is completely destroyed.
J: Yeah, that’s right.
I: The Seoul now is ten biggest–one of the ten metropolitan city in the world.
J: I uh–I would believe that from the pictures I’ve seen.
I: Yeah right.
I: Are you proud?
I: Are you proud that you fought for Korea?
J: Oh yeah! Oh yeah!
It didn’t come to an end, but uh–I was glad I was there. I am now. At that time, I–I was a regular soldier, you know, so it’s just another duty and uh–yeah. I don’t suppose I thought of it one way or the other then.
J: You know, when you’re young and you have a job to do, you’re–[laughs]
I: So, when you return from Korea how old was your children? You said you have two boys?
J: Yeah, at that time I had two. I–I subsequently ended up with three. Uh, John the oldest was about uh–four or five–uh–about seven.
J: And Greg, the youngest then was about uh–uh– three or four.
I: So, what did you do after you returned from Korea?
J: Well, I went on leave [laughs]. Then, went to New Brunswick uh–recruiting officer.
J: Spent two years there. Uh–then returned to the [unintelligible]. Went up to uh–Wolseley Barracks in London.
The battalion had moved at that time from Brockville to London uh–was–I guess I was there five or six years and–I can’t remember now.
M: When did you get out of the Army?
J: Yeah. Did 32 years.
M: You stayed in the RCR right to ’74?
J: I uh–was staff appointments.
M: Staff appointments, yeah.
M: What rank did you get out at?
J: Uh–I uh–uh–we went to Germany. I went to Cyprus twice.
M: What rank did you reach?
M: Major. Okay.
J: Only in the Army could I have reached the rank of Major.
I: [laughs] uh–what is the impact of the war upon your life?
J: Oh, uh–yeah.
The impact. It’s always been with us. I guess we don’t talk about it that much.
I: Right. Why? Why? Why not? Why didn’t you talk about it?
J: I don’t know. You know, the horrors of war are hidden back here somewhere [points to back of head] and it takes a guy who’s with you at the time uh–to open the door and uh–if he’s willing to talk about it.
I’ve been uh–oh some old friends of mine, the Van Doos there’s only a few of us left now from the battalion and uh–three officers uh–they didn’t talk about it either.
I: Why do you think Korean War has been regarded as forgotten?
J: I never understood that.
J: I never forgot it. [laughs]
J: And uh–
maybe people did. I don’t know. My family didn’t. No. Oh, we were young then, we were tough and…
I: Do you have any message to young Canadians about your experience as a Korean War veteran?
J: Yeah, join the Army.
I: Join the Army?
J: It’s a good life. It’s a good life.
They uh–I found in the Army that the more I gave the Army, the more they gave back to me.
J: It was good. I ended up the uh–staff house or two. General [Birchois] Louis [Birchois] in Ottawa here. And–and that was a good experience.
I: Mm-hmm. What would you say to Korean people as a–
J: Korean people?
I: Yeah. What would you say to Korean people as Korean War veteran from Canada?
J: What would I say to em? Well, thank you for your support.
J: Yeah, they were good to us or what I know. You know, the rare I saw–and saw–saw a lot of em and uh–oh yeah, we used to have a Korean barber I remember coming up, cutting our hair and–nice people.
I: They must be good, yeah.
Is–is this veteran’s home?
J: Yeah. Where I am, yeah.
I: Mm-hmm. How do you like it?
J: Oh, first class.
I: First class?
J: Oh yeah.
J: Couldn’t ask for better. I guess that’s the only spot that I–there was only one given out to the battalion.
M: With an MID.
J: And I got the MID.
M: You got it, eh? Well look at that.
I: Hm. So, Jerry, I want to thank you for your fight and
stay healthy so that I can come back and see you and talk more.
J: You’re welcome to come back any time.
[End of Recorded Material]