Korean War Legacy Project

John P. Downing

Bio

John P. Downing volunteered for the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1950 influenced by his families’ participated in WWI and WWII. After entering the war in 1951, John P. Downing was an infantryman who fought on Hill 355 which is a hill that overlooked the 38th parallel. Therefore, it was a sought-after location by both the North and South Koreans. Every Canadian regiment spent some time on this hill and it was constantly hit with artillery by the enemy. John P. Downing remembers the night patrols and the cold weather vividly. Food rations were limited and he was wet and cold most of the time.  After his time in the Korean War, John appreciated life and he felt freer than ever before.

Video Clips

Dangers as an Infantrymen

John P. Downing spent 13 months fighting in the Korean War north of Seoul. During night patrols, he fought the Chinese and participated in ambush patrols. During his patrols, he suffered a wound to his right arm, but it didn't take him away from Korea.

Tags: Dongducheon,Seoul,Chinese,Front lines

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul00dsv99j0&start=216&end=430

Life as a Soldier on Hill 355

John P. Downing explained that life as a soldier was cold, wet, and hungry. He had limited rations and many of his friends died during his time participating in the Korean War for 13 months. Hill 355 was a hill that overlooked the 38th parallel and it was constantly under attack by the enemy. Artillery and mortars were incoming while John was protecting the hill.

Tags: Dongducheon,Seoul,Chinese,Cold winters,Food,Front lines,Letters,Living conditions,North Koreans,Physical destruction

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul00dsv99j0&start=457&end=672

Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

J:         My name is John P. Downing, J-O-H-N, P. D-O-W-N-I-N-G.

I:          Um.  What is your birthday?

J:         September 27, 1931.

I:          Where were you born?
J:         Born, uh, well born [NUTEAN]

I:          [NUTEAN]?

J:         [NUTEAN]

MALE VOICE:  Ottawa

I:          Ah.

J:         It’s Ottawa now.  It was [NUTEAN] then.

I:          Tell me about your family when you were growing up.

J:         My family

I:          Yeah.

0:00:30

J:         Well, my father, uh, my family consisted of my mother and father and, uh, and my sister Mary Elizabeth.  My father died when I was, uh, five or six.

I:          So what school did you go through?
J:         I went to, uh, PROADVIEW AVENUE, P-R-O-A-D

I:          Um hm.

J:         V-I-E-W Avenue Public School.

0:01:00

I:          Public school.  What was your favorite subject?

J:         Um, History.

I:          History.  So tell me about the history on Korea that you knew before you left for Korea.  Did you know anything about Korea?

J:         Very little, a few, uh, few odd things I had read up on it, very little.

I:          Huh.

0:01:30

J:         It was just a far, just  a place in the Far East or Middle East or whatever, long way.

I:          Long way.  Very long way.  And what did you do when the Korean War broke out?

J:         Uh, I joined the, uh, I joined the Infantry.  I joined the Airborne Regiment, the Royal Canadian Regiment.

0:02:00

I:          When was it?

J:         Nineteen, uh, nineteen fifty I believe.

I:          Wow.  What was your unit?
J:         First battalion of the, uh, Royal Canadian Regiment.

I:          Uh.  And that was, uh, Airborne?
J:         Yes.

I:          Did you like it?

J:         Yes.

0:02:30

I:          To me, it was kind of, uh, very difficult for me to jump from the very height.

J:         Yeah.  I hate heights.

I:          You hate it.  How were you surviving that?
J:         Well, it was a challenge.

I:          Yeah.  Must been challeng

J:         Little more money, you know?

I:          Oh.  Did they pay you more?

J:         Paid a little more, and [INAUDIBLE]

I:          I see.  Where did you get the basic military training?

0:03:00

J:         Basic, uh, I believe it was, uh, Camp Borden, Ontario.

I:          Um hm.   How long?

J:         Three months I believe the basic was.

I:          Uh huh.  Then what did you do?

J:         I went to, I joined the Regiment, uh.  I picked the Royal Canadian Regiment because, uh,

0:03:30

because it was an Airborne unit.

I:          Um.  And do you remember when you left for Korea?  When did you leave for Korea?

J:         Oh, I don’t remember.

I:          You don’t remember.  You were in Korea?  Were you in Korea?

J:         Yeah, I was about 13 months in Korea.

I:          Thirteen months.

J:         Something like that.

I:          Uh huh.  So it must be like, uh, 1951?

0:04:00

J:         I guess so.

I:          Uh huh.  And where were you?  Do you  have any idea where were you were?

J:         Um, somewhere North of Seoul.

I:          North of Seoul, yes.  And what was your duty?

J:         Well, I was an Infantryman

I:          Uh huh.

J:         General Infantry.  Patrols

I:          Patrols.

0:04:30

Were there any dangerous moments?

J:         Quite a few.

I:          Can you tell me about it?

J:         I don’t know that I can.  Most, uh, most patrols were, were night patrols.  Nearly everything was at night.

I:          Uh huh.

J:         You went out, uh, you went out try and make contact with the, with the Chinese on a fighting patrol or just lay out all night on an ambush patrol.

0:05:00

I:          Do you remember anything special during your regular patrol duties?

J:         Oh, I remember [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Yeah.  It must be very scary, right?  You cannot see anything.  You don’t know where the enemy is.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Were you am, ambushed?

J:         Yeah.

I:          Huh.

0:05:30

J:         Yeah.  Yeah, we were on a few fighter patrols.  Had, uh, different people killed at times or wounded.

I:          Were you wounded?

J:         Uh, just a slight wound.

I:          Where?
J:         Left arm.

I:          Left arm.  So were you recognized for that?

J:         Uh,

0:06:00

I don’t think so.

I:          Um.  You didn’t tell about it?

J:         Say what?

I:          You didn’t tell about it?  You didn’t report back to them that you were wounded?
J:         Yeah.  Yeah.  They, uh, oh, what do you call it,

MALE VOICE:  The medic, the med aid

J:         Yeah.

I:          Um hm.

MALE VOICE:  Patched you up.

0:06:30

I:          Um, so you didn’t know really much about Korea, and why were you there?
J:         I don’t think the world knew much about  Korea.

I:          Right.

J:         Well, I guess because, uh, most of my, uh, uncles or relatives had been in the Second, First World War or Second World War.  We’re all military.  All, uh, all during the Army,

0:07:00

Was an act of aggression so we, I joined.  Probably, probably for the excitement, too.

I:          Excitement.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Were you not afraid going to the War?
J:         I went for the excitement.

I:          Wow.  That’s a very unique.

J:         Yeah.

I:          You’re looking for something exciting in the War.

J:         I guess so.

I:          Um.  But you

0:07:30

could lose your life .

J:         Yeah.  But I’m here.

I:          In one piece, right?
J:         Yeah.

I:          Oh, very good.  What was the most difficult thing to you in Korea?

J:         Well, uh, aside from the, uh, from the patrols and the odd company attack, it, uh, it was hard living.  We, uh, we had a very hard, uh, hard time living there.  It was

0:08:00

cold and, uh, you were wet most of the time and, uh, uh, rations weren’t all that great.  But, uh, no, it was cold.

I:          Did you write letter back to your family from Korea?

J:         Uh, periodically.  Not enough I’m sure.  But, uh, no, not a lot.

I:          Um.

J:         I did write some, yeah.

I:          Uh huh.  Do you remember anything you wrote specially?

0:08:30

Whom did you write to?

J:         I wrote to my mother.

I:          Your mom.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Um hm.

J:         And that was about it.  My father was dead.

I:          Did you have any friend at the time?

J:         Uh, not, not a lot, no.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Not, I don’t, uh, I don’t know whether I wrote to any friends or not.  I didn’t, I never much of a writer.  Uh,

0:09:00

I:          Have you been to Seoul when you were in Korea?

J:         Uh, yeah, I was in Seoul, never, never spent much time, uh, in any cities or anything there.

I:          But you were in Seoul, right?

J:         Yeah.
I:          How was it?  How Seoul was

J:         Big, big

I:          at the time?

J:         Big and dirty.

I:          Tell me about the detail you saw there.

J:         No.  Oh, they were poor, very poor.  People sleeping different places and, I don’t

0:09:30

remember Seoul that much.  Probably after this interview I will.

MALE VOICE:  John, in Korea, were you a Private soldier or a Corporal?

J:         I was a private soldier.

MALE VOICE:  Private soldier in the ranks.

J:         Yeah.

MALE VOICE:  What platoon?  Do you remember?

J:         Uh,

MALE VOICE:  What company?

J:         Fire section 8 platoon charley company first.  And then I was, uh, then I was mortar.

MALE VOICE:  Oh, okay.

J:         Alright.

MALE VOICE:  Mortar Platoon.

0:10:00

I:          Do you have any special memory about Korean War?

J:         I think, uh, I have flashbacks, uh.

I:          Yeah.

J:         about it.  The special memories, yeah.  I remember when patrols especially, yeah.

I:          Um hm.  What is it?

J:         I’m trying to think of it.

0:10:30

Where we lost guys on the hill, I’m trying to bring it back to me, but it won’t come back.
I:          Um.  So you lost your company.

J:         Well, not the company.  Companies, [INAUDIBLE] people from the company.

I:          Yeah.

MALE VOICE:  Do you remember  the Battle of Hill 355?

J:         Oh yeah.

MALE VOICE:  That was the big battle for the RCR, 355.

J:         Yeah, that was

MALE VOICE:  [INAUDIBLE]

J:         Yeah.  We were overrun on 355.

I:          Yeah.  Tell me about that,

0:11:00

Hill 355.

J:         God, nobody mentioned that in a long time.

I:          How hard was it?  Was it Chinese?

J:         Oh, artillery, artillery, terrible, yeah.

I:          Have you been back to Korea?

J:         Uh, yes, once, yeah.

I:          When?

J:         Oh, quite a while back.  I don’t, uh, memory gone.

0:11:30

In, uh,

MALE VOICE:  Did you go with a bunch of guys on a tour?

J:         I never went to, I’ve been thinking about going back again.  But I never went back.

I:          Um.

J:         I went back once, yeah.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Yeah.  Yeah.

I:          Are you proud of your service in the Korean War?
J:         Yeah, oh Yeah, I think so.  I, at the time it was the thing for me to do.

I:          Um hm.

J:         You know?  Like I said, my people had been in the Second World War and

0:12:00

it was an act of aggression, you know, the North attacking the South and, uh, and there was a, it was interesting, you know.  It was exciting.  Oh, yeah.  A lot of guys, a lot of guys went to Korea because of that, because it was, they wanted to get in a war, you know.  So, yeah.

I:          Um.  What,

0:12:30

what kind of man did you become after the War?  How does it change you?  Is there any impact in your life?

J:         Oh, I’m sure there was.

I:          What is that?

J:         It was.  Uh, I don’t really know.  I guess I was a little more,

0:13:00

I don’t know whether you call it freer or

I:          Um hm.

J:         partying, I guess so.

I:          Freer?

J:         Freer, like, I partied more after I came back, you know, and have celebrating that, you know.

MALE VOICE:  You had a great appreciation of life

J:         Yeah.

MALE VOICE:  is what you’re saying.

J:         Yeah.    The Korean government has treated us well.  I think perhaps much better than, than our own, you know?  Yeah.

0:13:30

[INAUDIBLE] oh yeah.  Well they, uh, they have little trips for us, you know, and they have parties and, you know.  I, I organized quite a few things there, yeah.

I:          Do you like that?
J:         Oh yeah.

I:          Hm.

J:         It’s a get together, you know.  It’s a get together that otherwise you wouldn’t get to meet the guys that you served with, you know.

I:          Thank you, John.

J:         Oh, thank you.

[End of Recorded Material]