Ronald Bourgon was born in Ottawa, Canada, and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army in 1950. He details being shipped to Korea, arriving in Busan, and making his way to the front lines shortly after arrival. He recalls witnessing the atrocities of war as his company came upon a Korean home that had been quartered by US soldiers; all had been shot and killed while in their sleeping bags or while trying to escape. He recounts his experience being surrounded by Chinese soldiers for three days and shares his worst memory of his time spent while serving in Korea. He compares South Korea to the Korea he remembers during the war, and he is proud of the small role he played in helping South Korea become what it is today.
Sleeping Near the Enemy
Ronald Bourgon describes moving towards the front lines near Jipyeongri. He remembers counting eighty-nine dead American soldiers along the way who had been killed in their sleeping bags or while attempting to run away from the North Korean enemy. He shares that many were African-American soldiers and that they had been stripped of their clothes and equipment. He recalls orders being given to not sleep in their sleeping bags despite the cold February temperature after the incident had been discovered.
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Rain of Steel
Ronald Bourgon recalls being completely surrounded by the Chinese for three days. He details the plan to combine weaponry from the US, New Zealand, and Canada to open an artillery barrage on their location. He recalls orders given to his company to get down in foxholes and to not come out as fire would be opened on their location in an attempt to stop the Chinese. He remembers the ravaged scene of dead Chinese soldiers once the barrage had ceased.
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A Close Call
Ronald Bourgon shares a dangerous moment memory. He recalls carrying the radio and rounding a big rock to avoid hitting branches where a soldier stood with his gun raised. He remembers the soldier pulling the trigger and the gun misfiring. He recounts the soldier apologizing for the mistake and stating that the guns never work as he pointed it to the ground and pulled the trigger again. He remembers the gun firing and shares he was lucky it misfired the first time.
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Ronald Bourgon details his worst memory while in Korea that has caused him grief over the years. He shares that in one encounter with the Chinese, he received a small shrapnel wound while another soldier was hit in the neck and was bleeding profusely. He recalls holding pressure on the soldier's neck as they made their way down the mountain towards a medical team. He shares that the soldier died due to blood loss, and he adds that he has questioned himself since as to whether he could have done more for him.
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Ronald Bourgon comments on the changes South Korea has made since the Korean War. He recalls scenes from his revisit experience and compares them to years past. He expands upon how genuinely nice the people are and expresses his gratitude for having played a small role in helping South Korea become what it is today.
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00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
Ronald Bourgon: My name is Ron Bourgon. Ronald R-O-N-A-L-D B-O-U-R-G-O-N. I am of French descent and I speak English and French.
R: A little bit of Italian and a little bit of Greek.
I: Wow! Four languages.
R: Just enough to order at the restaurant. [Laughs]
I: [Laughs] You need to learn Korean, so you can order—
R: A little bit—
I: –at Korean restaurant.
R: I’ve got [kap yum ee da Korean phrase].
R: and a few things.
I: Very nice. What is your birthday?
R: June 22nd, 1931.
I: Where were you born?
R: I was born here in Ottawa.
R: In the–in the Laurieton Flats, which do not exist anymore. It’s right across from where the war memorial– or the um…
I: And tell me about your family when you were growing up. Your siblings your parents.
R: We were–I was the eldest of six children. Two boys and four girls.
R: And uh, we were all raised in Ottawa, in school here. I went to high school here and university for two years.
I: What university?
R: University of Ottawa.
R: And then uh, because of circumstances where it was too expensive, I–I stopped. I couldn’t–
I: What did you want to become?
R: Yes. Yeah.
I: So, you were interested in becoming in legal.
R: Yes. I did–I did later on, after I came back from Korea. I was in Chicago and I had an opportunity to uh– at Lasalle Extension University take the course and get my LLB.
I: You did?
R: Oh yeah.
I: So, you finally become a lawyer.
R: Well I–I got the–the degree, but I never practiced law.
I: Ah. But you fulfilled your dream.
R: Yes, I did my te–I did all the tests.
I: That’s great.
R: I wasn’t–
I: So, you passed the Bar exam?
R: No, I never
Went to–never passed the bar exam.
R: Because I would have to article and I–I–I it was all–see, I started here in Canada the basics and then in the United States, was–this is– the American law is altogether different. The British Common Law is the same, basically, but then all the other laws that are in every state and everything that’s where–I–I just did it for my dad. My dad wanted me to do it–
R: –and I said well, why not? You know? And then I went into business with a law firm in Montreal for a few years.
Actually, 18 months. Then, I purchased a collection agency. I was a bailiff and then in 19 and 69 I sold my interests and I bought a farm.
R: And then I bought another farm. And then I bought another farm so, I have about–I had around 1,000 acres all together. I sold a few since then.
And went on being a farmer. I loved the work.
I: Great. So, agriculture is the backbone of the industry.
I: So, yeah.
R: Yes, and it’s a good life. Hard work and of course, I always liked hard work and it was–it was a good life. A very good life. I raised most of my family from their early ages after 8 or 9 on the farm.
I: Tell me about what were you doing at the time that the Korean War broke out?
R: I was going to school then at the University of Ottawa and we–my two friends and I were in Toronto and uh–this came out in August uh–notifying in the newspapers that they would be recruiting soldiers for–for this–this–this uh eff– this effort in Korea and um, my friend said, “you know, if we don’t join this, we’ll never see a– get a chance to be into a war”.
R: And I said well, I’m not too anxious for that.
But, well why not? So, in August of– I think it was around the 12th or the 10th, I can’t remember the exact dates, we–we signed up with the–with the Canadian Army. And then, of course, they said how many of you would be interested in going into the driver pool and driving Jeeps and trucks? And so right away, we put up our hands you know? Naturally. And uh–they put us all into infantry. [Laughs]
I: So, what was your unit?
R: PPCLI. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
R: Second battalion.
I: Second battalion.
R: A company. 2 platoon.
I: Eight company?
R: A. Like–
I: A company.
R: Yes. 2 platoon.
I: 2 platoon.
R: And my–my officer was Brian McKenzie Monroe, left tenant. My sergeant was Tom Prince.
I: Where did you get the basic?
R: Basic was in Calgary, Sarcee and Wainwright.
I: And let me ask this question. You were highly educated. You were in the University of Ottawa when the Korean War broke out. Did you know anything about Korea before?
R: No. I never heard of it.
I: Okay. You were educated–
I: –college students and you didn’t know about Korea?
R: No. I didn’t know about Korea. I had an idea of where the country was. But I knew absolutely nothing about the–I thought–when I–when we talked about it, my friends, we thought that it was a part of Japan.
At–someone said it was an annexed by Japan. And I said I don’t know. I–I didn’t know. But when I got over there, I did– I made an effort to learn some of the words, you know, thank you, how much is this? And where to? And uh–
I: Survival Korean.
I: You didn’t need to survive there with the Korean language, right?
R: Well, uh–it–it was quite an experience when we arrived it Korea around the–I think 22nd or the 23rd of December of 1950 and uh–there was a–
I: Where did you arrive?
R: In Pusan. Now its Busan, it’s changed. I don’t know why. I guess it must be some historic uh–or–
I: No actually, originally is a Busan.
R: Busan. Huh.
I: But the way that we write, not read, but the Americans and Japanese–
R: They reverse–
I: thought it was P.
R: –the B to the P.
R: Yeah, yeah.
I: Yeah, so we reversed it to the, you know, right.
R: It was quite an experience. We were–we were billeted in a uh a school
Where you have to cross over a bridge and then up an embankment–a hill. And there was a school there and, of course the–it wasn’t being used by the Koreans at the time because of the conflict, and we were uh–we were billeted there for a few days. And then either the first or the–I think just short of New Year’s, we were sent to Miryang.
R: Miryang. Which is about–
I: [Milyang] yes, yes.
I: [Milyang]. Yeah.
R: And this–we did six weeks of uh–uh– extensive training. You know–the–that we weren’t prepared for this–this kind of–this type of war.
R: So, when we got there, we got settled in along the Miryang river and then
Somehow or another, I got involved there. They asked me if I would–well they didn’t ask me they told me [chuckling] you’re going to uh–uh–make a shower and uh–fix it up so the boys can get hot water so they can–they can wash themselves. Because we’re right beside the river. So, I made the first c–uh–showers for the Canadian troops on the banks of the Miryang. [Laughs]
R: And uh–a fella by the name of Bill Boss, which was a reporter for the newspapers here in Canada, took a picture of me
Filling up these 45-gallon drums so the boys can take a shower. The–the–the–the uh procedure was that they would bring each two five-gallon Jerrycans of water and uh– we would dump that into two 45-gallon drums. Two on one side, and two on another. We had an emersion meter under the tanks, which would warm up the water. I used coffee cans with holes in it from nails so that the water would come out just enough to use 10 gallons of water. So, it would give em about a three-minute shower, which was great.
I: Hm. What is the scene that you remember old Pusan?
I: Describe in detail about the people, children, street scene.
R: There was a–there was a –there was a–there was a lot of–lot of uh–uh–of–uh– refugees at the time. There were so many all through Pusan. And um–but the people were friendly. Very friendly. I mean, it didn’t matter where you went it was a —
a restaurant or to buy something or some jewelry the people just–just were very nice. Very nice people. I’m–I–I noticed that right away. And I–I–I–we didn’t get a chance to get away very much. They gave us a couple of hours leave each night that we were there which– four, five nights we were there, maybe for a week. And uh–uh we didn’t get to see very much. Uh and in–when we got to Miryang well, there was nothing there. I–the village was uh–completely away from where we were billeted.
We were living in tents and we were out in patrols. We were trying to uh–find out how the land lay and what the mount–up the mountain down the mountains and, you know, and uh–getting–a–a–used to the territory so that when we took off, we would–we would be able to cope with it. But, we didn’t get much of a chance to–to meet with the people. Naturally, we wanted to get souvenirs and–and uh–uh visit different places.
Um, naturally places to have a drink or something. Didn’t drink very much, but everybody were looking for a place to have a drink and where was some entertainment. And uh–that’s about all. We never had much chance to do anything because we would do guard duty, actually I didn’t know what we were guarding. They gave us a rifle, our own rifles of course, and we had no ammunition. [laughs].
I: So, from Miryang, where did you go?
R: From Miryang, on the 17th I believe
the 17th of February. No, on the 15th of February the colonel assembled the whole regiment on the side of the bank where we had the showers face–just in front of the river, and they told us we were going into the lines and that uh–we would have to be on our toes and that–uh–there was–uh–um–snipers and that there was uh– all kinds of nests around it–with–with the enemy in it.
And they–they were trying to ro–root them out, of course, but it was dangerous, and we had to be on our toes. So, on the 17th we move into the line. We got on–
I: Where? In Miryang?
R: In Miryang we got into the trucks and we went towards Chipyong-ni
I: Chipyong-ni yes.
R: And A company took the lead. My officer was left tenant Page. I was behind him with sergeant Prince behind me.
And I had the radio of course, and so–I–I had–I was in front with the officer and we counted–I counted 89 dead Americans on the side of the road.
R: They had been caught in their sleeping bags and chased there at–sleeping inside of the Korean homes rather than in–no too much guard on–on to protect them or uh–any guards at all. I–I don’t know. But, we found–I counted 89 bodies. Mostly uh–negros and naked.
It was quite a–it was an eye opener. And uh–that night, when we stopped.
I: What were you thinking when you saw that horrible scene?
R: I was scared. I was scared. I was really scared. Um, I had never seen dead bodies like that and uh–I was thinking, ‘what did they do wrong to–to go through this?’. And then uh–one of the– Tommy Prince says, “They didn’t have anyone–enough people
uh–on–uh–uh–on watch at night. They probably just had maybe only one, maybe two, because it was quite a bit–it was over a hundred people there. And the–the uh North Koreans at the time uh–took care of these guys and then–they–they–they killed the rest of them. They ran out of the homes uh–and then when they were killed, they took their clothes, their boots and, you know, better equipment, I guess.
But it uh– it really opened my eyes. I’ll tell ya, I was–I was being called on the radio. They wanted to get a position report where we were. Of course, we only moved down maybe a mile before they started checking on us and they kept calling me and I kept getting it mixed up. I was still kind of panicky. I was–I was afraid. I’d never seen this type of thing. And uh–finally they sent one of the corporals down to see me and said, “What’s going on? What’s the matter?”. I said, ‘well, I’m scared. I said this really opened my eyes’.
And he said, “Well, report your signal because uh–they want to find out where you’re at–located”. And I said, well, I was okay after that. But, that was the eye opener. The first one.
I: So, did you stay in Chipyong-ni or what?
R: We uh– went out on the outskirts of–of the village and then uh–they wouldn’t–the colonel wouldn’t let any of us stay in–in–in houses. It was strictly in–a–sleeping bags outside. And that night, he cancelled the sleeping bags. No more sleeping bags. We get a poncho and a blanket.
I: Why not?
R: Because uh–you wouldn’t be able to get out of that sleeping bag in time. You have to be alert and ready to go.
I: But, that’s a February or March. Still very cold, right?
R: It–it–oh yeah, very cold. Yes. Oh, it was uh–raining and sometimes it was snowing. Oh, we marched for five hours in the rain. And uh–taking our positions. Chasing the uh–the North Koreans. There was no Chinese there at the time. The Chinese come in later. Uh–later in uh–March. They had no more amm–
well, very little ammunition left. They were–uh–hand to hand combat with–with bayonets. Uh–uh Mike Levey assembled his men, told them stay in your holes. He says I’m gonna call in the artillery. They called in artillery from the Americans with eight-inch guns. The uh–New Zealanders with 25-pounders. Another American battalion with–uh–155’s. There was uh–uh
4” mortars and 3” mortars from the–our own uh–uh–our own– our own–um support companies. And for 45 minutes almost 5,000 rounds fell on D company. Some of these 8” shells would explode roughly 80, 75-80 feet above the ground. It was like rain of steel. The Chinese–so many Chinese they–they–they couldn’t count because
the part–the–the–well, the bodies were so badly damaged they–they–some–they–they couldn’t count the exact, but the–the–on the first–the night of the 24th, there was over 1500 were killed. More than 1500. And uh–it was warm and–and–I don’t know if it–because the wind was coming from that area, but we could smell it. It was a terrible thing. And I–I couldn’t–when we come back down the hill and we saw what was
s–strewn around there it’s unbelievable what–what ammunition and shells can do to a human body and to these poor devils. I mean, they tried three times to–to–uh get by D company and Mike–Mike Levy organized his men and told them get down into your holes, stay there, don’t move. Anything around you shoot it, it’s not one of us and uh–then the artillery barrage started
and that stopped the–that stopped the Chinese. That’s what turned them around. They uh–they just uh–couldn’t put up with this kind of thing. And I–I–I–I can’t for the life of me visualize what–what that would do. To be in something like this. To see so many people so badly hurt and–and wounded and mangled and oh my God. But, that–we were lucky. If–if Mike Levy didn’t call in artillery uh–support like this,
and–and there is a book written by Hub Grey, who was on the machine guns called, Beyond a Danger Close, which is a term used when you’re completely surrounded that uh–you called in the artillery as a barrage to kind of get rid of the–the attack. The uh–the–the uh–the–the shell disposition and amazingly only a couple of the men were hurt.
R: Uh–of course, we lost 12 men. We–12 were killed and another 25 or 30 were wounded, but uh–we were lucky. If the–if the Chinese came one more time, we’d had it. In the morning of the 24th, we see C119’s flying over our position and I said to Brian Monroe the left tenant, my good friend, I said somebody’s in trouble.
The only time these fly–these planes come across is because they’re surrounded and they started dropping the ammunition and water and food on us [laugh] it was us! We were completely surrounded for three days. So, we were lucky. Very lucky.
I: Any other major battle that you were participating?
R: No. That was the biggest one. One was enough.
R: Uh, after that, it was mostly um–patrols. I went on a patrol at one time and we were about–oh maybe 10 miles
into no man’s land and we were on a–a series of mountains that came through the valley on both sides and we were maybe, I guess 400 meters up. And as we got to the end of this row–this–this–this uh–um–these mountains, I looked across the valley, and I could see the Chinese all along the other side of the hill and Monroe pulls out his binoculars and he says, “Oh, we’re too far, we gotta get outa here.
Quietly boys, get down on the side and–and we’ll–we’ll head back home”. On the way back, we found a young Korean boy with the bone in his leg sticking out. He had broken his leg and it had healed, but there was about 4” of bone sticking out of his leg. It was all dried up.
R: And I said to him, I said, we can’t leave this kid here. And he says, well, you got the radio they’ve got their equipment and we have nobody to carry him.
And I remember that–down about a quarter of a mile there was a small, a couple of small houses there and there was a–a Korean there a big boy, a big Korean. Oh, he must have been 5’10” and oh–he was the biggest Korean I’ve ever seen anyway and uh–we–I says– ‘how would you like to have a job?’. You know, and I said uh–‘pick this boy up and carry him back to the lines’. Oh he says, ‘I’ve been wounded’. And he says, ‘going to be very hard for me’.
I said well, I said uh–you know, make yourself, you know, 40 or 50 dollars. And–and that was about–maybe 3–30–30,000 won at the time. Whatever it was. And he said, ‘Okay. Yeah. I’ll do it’. So, he–he got in with us and carried the boy back for about eight miles.
I: Oh. Very nice.
R: I was always wanting to see more and see how far we could get and–and what we could accomplish. I wanted to see how fast we could move up.
Because the idea was, according to the uh–the American General that we would move 1,000 yards a day across the complete peninsula and this way here, it wouldn’t leave enemy uh– sections uh–behind us. That could–could uh–cause problems in the back and–and saboteurs and–and–and of course, uh–kill soldiers. Uh…
I: Even after you saw those 89–
R: Yeah, yeah.
R: After–after a day or so
I kinda started I was more–I was mentally alert, I’ll tell ya. I kept my eyes open. [laugh] I didn’t sleep too soundly.
I: Were there any dangerous moment that you almost lose your life?
R: Couple. Uh I was um–
I: So, you been around Chipyong-ni all the time?
R: No, we left Chipyong-ni the next day and oh we–we went into the mountains and to the hills and uh– we cleaned out whatever was there. And was we–we didn’t meet any enemy at the time. There was–
–the–they were–they were ahead of us, but they kept ahead of us. They kept moving cause they knew we were coming. And um–uh I didn’t come into any conflict at that time. About a week later, I was um–we were coming up on a–on a very–oh I guess it would be around 5-600 meters this–this–this mountain. We had crossed a river, a small river and we were advancing in line and um–I had the radio with the antenna and it kept–
–when I–we were going up this–one of the hills there was no big trees around there, but there was a lot of bu–brushes, bush and the antenna kept hooking on there. So, I went around this big hill, well, it wasn’t a big hill, but it was a big rock and um–
I: So, you were just infantry, right?
I: Rifleman. Okay. Good.
R: Yes, I was a rifleman, yeah.
R: And uh–I went around this–this hill to avoid these branches and when I came around the other side, one of the soldiers
had his gun out–his bren–his stun gun, which is a 9mm semiautomatic weapon and uh–he fired.
I: Fired to whom?
R: And it–and it–it misfired.
R: It didn’t work. And I–and he said, ‘geez I’m terr–I’m sorry’ you know. I said, ‘well, I says its, you know, I’m sure you didn’t do it on purpose’. [laugh]. His name was Parsons. He was from Newfoundland. [laughs]. Good guy, I–I–I was good friends with him. And um–he says,
‘these damn things never work’. And he pointed to the ground and pulled the trigger and it–and it fired.
R: [laughs] that was my first close call.
I: Any encounter with North Koreans or Chinese later?
R: Uh… we kept chasing them uh–until oh–I guess the end of March. We were always a few hundred yards, maybe 1,000 yards behind them. We could see them and were chasing them of course, while they’re moving along too. But there
was never any force. There was always small pe–you know, seven, eight, ten, maybe 15, sometimes three, four, but they’re all–I don’t know if they’re trying to get back North or whose orders they were following, but they were not um–they were not attacking us. They were–they–didn’t–we weren’t attacked at all until late in March.
R: And we had one skirmish then and uh–then we started seeing Chinese.
I: Tell me about the Chinese. The encounter with the Chinese.
R: Well, we–we didn’t know until we saw the uniforms.
Because the North Koreans had a uniform uh–uh–well, not much of a uniform, but they had a uniform, while the Chinese had a–a padded it was padded–uh–uh–uh–uh–padded suits–
R: And running shoes. And sometimes we were uh–we were chasing–I can’t remember where it was, but we were chasing them up this uh–this hill and uh–the jets came in behind us and uh–dropped napalm and uh–terrible mess. And uh–then I knew that uh–
–we were chasing the Chinese because there was a about seven of them there uh–badly burt and uh–blown right out of their shoes, their running shoes. Because the uh–the–the shells from the jets 20mm cannons were falling on us, that’s how low they were. You know, a coup–couple of us got hit by the–by the shells. But, that was the–this would be around uh–we–we’d be around the end of March then.
And uh–I can’t remember the location, but I remember going through a big tunnel, train–train tunnel, and we–we were scared there because you never know what the hell is gonna happen. And then, we came out into an open and uh–again, there was about uh–eight or 10 Chinese on the hill.
R: And as soon as we started coming up in–in force, they started running. At another time, we come up the hill and they had a mule. [laughs]
and uh–one of our guys got the mule and kept it with him for about two weeks [laughs]. He said, ‘Oh, we’re gonna eat it’. [laughs]
R: We were tired of C-rations.
I: When did you leave Korea?
R: I left in November uh–lets see–I left in uh–I think it was the 3rd of November of 1951.
I: So, until from March til November you were always chasing the Chinese? Or–
R: We were chasing them but–not all the time, no.
I: Because this is strange because many of the interviews that I did, you know, with the Canadians, they were being chased by Chinese or close encounter.
R: Well, we they would–they would–we’d get encounters with them, but they never came at us in force. Maybe we were just lucky in A company, but we never–I never got into a–a–a– real skirmish where they’re face to face and we’re fighting with them. We were chasing them and they would go left or they would go right. Some place another town, into another mountain or something
and then we were always maybe an hour or two maybe behind them. But, we weren’t gonna run, uh–we were just moving along the way they told us. Make sure every heal is clean. Uh–I–many times we–we climbed up on the top of a mountain at night when we stopped moving and dug in to find some soft earth where the–where there was no frost because it was a grave. I remember one night I dug this hole, and I says, boy this one’s easy and it was a grave. [laughs]
It’s a–that’s–well you get wake up calls when you see those things, but uh.
I: If you–if you are asked to say one thing that you hated most during your presence in Korea, what is it?
R: Geez, I can’t really say that. Of course, I didn’t like the weather. Uh–everybody complained about the weather.
I: You from Ottawa.
I: So, its not that different. It’s cold here.
R: No, it’s a was–the cold weather was the same thing for us it was not a problem, but um, I never found anything bad in Korea. Uh–except the–of course the fighting and then–then the nervousness of never knowing what’s ahead of you. Uh, many–many of the boys uh–I remember we were digging in one place-, I don’t remember the town, but uh–Fairchild was hit when we were digging in in our position on top of this hill and he was killed and another one by the name of Stuart uh, he got shot in the shoulder and he was killed.
But, I was lucky. I just uh–I got one episode in March the 8th, a fella by the name of um–uh–lets see Bill–what was his name nothing–not blank, anyway, Bill.
R: He was shot and–in–on the jugular vein this–this jugular vein here (points to left side). And uh–I had taken off the radio prior to this happening. We were, again, we’re just
a small group of–of–of–uh Chinese and um–we got–they fired some mortars at us and uh–I took off the radio and a piece of the shell from the mortar of shrapnel hit me in my back.
R: Made a small-minor, but the medical orderly said uh–when you go down the hill they’ll–they’ll put a–a bandage on it. They’ll do better than what I can do here and he says, I want you to hold onto the
Lapka was his name, Bill Lapka and I held on–I held the pressure on the jugular here down the hill for about oh, maybe 25 or 30 minutes of getting down to the–the uh–the–the medical aid station we had down there. The Americans were down there. And um–when I got there, some of the blood from the–there was two–four of us all together. With two guys with the stretchers at the front, two guys in the back and me holding onto the–the–the–jugular vein.
R: And the blood k–k–kept getting away just the same and there was a bit of it on me and so, when I got down there right away started to treat me I said not me, it’s him, get him. And uh–they uh–they just put a bandage on my back and said, ‘oh you can go back up the hill, it’s only a scratch’. I said, ‘I know’. But this guy Lapka died uh–on the way to the airport.
R: To the uh–to the medical unit–the hospital. The MASH unit. He uh–lost too much blood.
I–I couldn’t hold. I held on as best I could, but the jugular vein–
R: I–I–I mean it was all torn away. It was a terrible wound. And uh–that was probably the worst situation for me in Korea was uh–that episode there because I knew the guy very well he was in our company, in our–our platoon. And uh–we lost him uh–and I wish–sometimes I–I–I used to get um–uh–not nightmares, but I used to get bad dreams about maybe I could’ve done more.
Maybe I should’ve put more pressure on it, maybe I should’ve changed position or–but, I’m out–he–he–he was head first and I was hold on because that’s the only way I could with one hand.
I: And he’s constantly moving because he was in the stretcher, right?
R: Well, he’s on the–is on the stretcher–
R: –and–and up, down, down the–we’re going down we’re probably 400, maybe 450 meters high and uh–unfortunately, Bill didn’t’ make it.
I: So, it still bothers you.
R: Even today, I sometimes I think about it and uh–
I wonder if I could’ve, you know, uh–held on a little tighter, maybe been more knowledgeable about medical procedures and be able to, you know, put something there to–to stop the blood because he was gray when we got down. He was–he was uh.
I: One thing you need to say to yourself, and I want to affirm you did your best to do a–
R: I did. I did.
I: Yep. So that’s it.
R: Yeah, I–I–I said this to–I–I–I–I used to– you did what you could.
But, I still figured, well maybe I’d have done just a little extra he might have made it, you know? But, the–the medical orderly told me, he says, ‘his chances were one in 100’. It was–it was a terrible wound. And even if they could’ve got to him and put a something there to ah, anyway…it didn’t work out for the guy.
I: Yep. Uh, when you left Korea, what did you think about Korea?
What–what did–had you ever thought about the future of this country? What could be like?
R: No. I gotta tell you the truth, I was anxious to get back home and uh–we had signed on for another three years to get out of the country to get home and uh–I had to be a paratrooper, which was part of the–the–the contract, but I um–I never–I never thought about it–I never thought, I says I–I did my bit. I did my time. And it was quite an experience
onward and forward. [laughs]
I: Were you able to write the letter back to your family?
R: Oh yes, I used to write every–oh three to four days to my girlfriend.
I: Do you still have that letters?
R: No, no, no.
I: Did you write back to your girlfriend?
R: Oh yes, yes. I used to write her once–
I: What was her name?
R: Her name was Eleanor Shea and uh–she was uh– a year younger than me, 18 years old. And she thought I–I–I joined the Army because uh–she hadn’t gone out with me on a date.
R: And I says well, I’d like to say that’s true, but it isn’t [laughs].
I: [laughs] You should have told so.
R: Well, I liked her. I was gonna marry her when I came back home, but then uh–it’s funny how things happen. You know, I–I–I was back–I was in the service and they gave us a 30 days leave when we came home and I spent it with her and had a good time and everything else and then I went back and became a paratrooper and started para training. I went back to NCO school uh–
I was in an NC–in Uijeongbu I went on the NCO school there, became a corporal and um–they put me into D company after the Battle of Kapyong and to uh–
I: Were you there?
R: Oh yes. Yes, I was.
I: Tell me about the Kapyong battle.
R: Well, Kapyong, Kapyong was um–it was a strange situation. We–we–we–had four companies. There was D company, who was to the uh–I guess it would be to the–the West of us.
And then, C company was about maybe a 500 yards West of them. A company right on a–on–on– the sharp edge of the hill. Geez I wanna put this away (bends down to pick something up).
R: Uh–A company was–we were in the center and then uh–B company was closer to the road near the river, which is the main road going to uh–uh–uh–Seoul.
Um…A company we were lucky, because all we got is a–a few shots fired at us but not very much, but we got a chance to see all the refugees coming through, even at night, with torches and some of the Rock Army who were–chased off. The–the Chinese hit the Rock Army. We had gone to the 38 parallel on the–we were relieved on the 18th of–
the 17th or the 18th of April of 1951 by the Rock Army. And uh–they were–they were twice as many as us, but when they got into our positions all along these hills that we had–we were on uh–we were told they were hit by a division or more and–and–and these–these guys uh–took a terrible beating. They were–they took a terrible and the–the survivors were coming through
our positions at–at Kapyong. Now, we were told on the 20th or the 19th, after the officers went up to the–the hill Jim Stone picked hill 677 because of its height and because of its–its–its position next to the road going to Seoul and the river, and its height and–and–and–
and its able to the–face the North. So, we were installed there, but all we had time to do was bring up the–the some of the bandoliers we had, which were half-empty. We had no grenades whatsoever. Some of them–some–some–some of the units–some of the uh–battalion had grenades, but not very many cause we moved–we were in a rest area and we just got our packs given to us, our equipment so that we could change our socks and change– our–our laundry
and–and clean up and just–we didn’t–one day and then back into the hills. So now, uh, we’re getting ready for whatever’s coming and we were told that uh–there was three divisions of Chinese coming our way that we’re–we’re in for a real fight. So, the British got hit first, the Middlesex regiment. They lost almost 80% of their–their–their whole battalion.
R: I mean, uh, even uh–their colonel was killed I believe
in that–in that episode. And there’s a little village close to–to uh Kapyong where they put up a big monument for the Middlesex regiment.
R: Beau–the–the–Canad–Korean people that–that day–this was in 2001, the 50th anniversary, I was there and–
I: You were there?
R: Yeah, oh yeah I went back. And uh–the soldiers, the Rock Army and–and–the stew–and the young–young soldiers uh–the–I guess it would be uh–
uh juniors I guess, they were all on the road with Canadian flags and banners, you know, welcoming us and everything else and for–oh it was quite an–they put on a good show. I’ll tell ya, they put on a good show. And uh, we–we had a–a moment there and uh–it was amazing. But anyway, getting back to where the battle was, The British got hit first. Then, they hit the Australians
who were about a mile to the–the West of them. The Australians couldn’t hold that position. They had go to back about four miles then regroup on another hill. And then, they hit PBCLI. We were the only ones left. If they got by us, it–they were going right straight to Seoul and that was their intention. They wanted to take Seoul and–and uh–start this thing all over again. They uh–they attacked D company because
there was a gentle grade there and they could come up 50–50 or 100 wide. Well, we had machine guns, belt fed machine guns, Vickers machine guns set up for a crossfire. We had A-100 machine guns, American machine guns, set up in between them. I used to be the bartender for the–for the officers mess in Korea. Every time we went back into a rest area, they would establish their bar, and I would be the bartender.
And clean the place up and everything else. And so uh–I got to know all the officers the left tenants, the young officers. And uh–there was three of them going back and they said, why don’t you come on back and we’ll visit all our [unintelligible].
I: So, that’s a Korean Government invite you back, right?
R: The Korean Government paid for us to go back.
R: Paid for our hotel room. And supplied us with food. Oh a wonderful job. I mean, its amazing what, you know, they really treat you well. And I went back in 2011
for the 60th and uh–this was more praise cause then–then the British came over with their own big band and oh we were there for a week, but it was mostly parades and visiting–shr–uh–cemeteries and–and–uh all kinds of meetings about the Korean War and everything else. And it was cold oh I never saw–I never think–I never believed that April could be that cold in Korea,
but it was cold and wet and uh–we’d leave at 7:00 in the morning and get on the bus and we’d visit here, we’d visit there. We got on the train and went to Pusan uh–Busan and visited the cemetery there. And we saw the different uh–marks around–around. We went to Kapyong of course, had a big meeting there.
I: Tell me, when you go back to see where you fought and you thought that you are losing what–what–what were you thinking when you go back and to see that.
R: Well, um, I couldn’t go back up the hill it was–I says, I don’t know how I got up there when I was 19. [laughs] It was so steep. And we went back to where the monuments are for the uh–the Kapyong veterans for PBCLI and um–we only stayed there for about an hour, but anyone who wanted to go up to where the positions were then, they had people that would help them do that. And they’d go over where D company was and come up by the back, because it was easier than where A company was
cause it was very steep. Uh–one episode happened there during the Kapyong battle was uh–we had no food for two days. And–and–and uh when we got up there, we brought up our C-rations with us and we don’t like ham and lima beans. Nobody does. So, we pitched them down the hill. Well, on the second day–well in fact it was going onto the third day I saw–I says to Monroe, I says, ‘I’m gonna go back down and get my can of the ham and lima beans’. [laughs].
He says, ‘are you crazy? You’re gonna get shot’. Anyway, I found it in the–in the dark groping around and I brought him a can too and he ate it. That was the first time he ate ham and lima beans. Just to show ya.
I: I’m–I’m asking you what did you think when you revisit the exact same place where you were fighting?
R: I couldn’t believe how the country had changed. How much improvements had been made in–in–in Seoul. 20 million people. I mean, uh bridges.
We only had there was–there was two bridges there when we were there and they–they’d been blown up by the British, not the British, but the Americans and then by the Chinese and then rebuilt by the Americans then demolished again by–by–the whoever happened to be around. Seoul was only roads with wires all over the streets and– the only place that was actually working was the police stations where they had the brothels. [laughs]
But um– when we got there and saw the airport, oh unbelievable what the–what the–the–what the country had done and–and–uh how the people had been so nice and uh–we were like kings there. I mean, it’s amazing uh–the way you’re treated over there. And uh–I–the only bad memories I’ve got was at Kapyong thinking about the boys that we’d lost there and–and how close we came to losing our lives.
And that was the only place where I was uh–really afraid is at Kapyong, but um–I didn’t go up the hill it was too–too steep for me. I’d had a–a heart problem and so I didn’t go up, but uh–I didn’t–I didn’t fe–I–I wasn’t nervous about it, but bad memories, again, you know, thinking about all the trouble that was happening there and the–the boys that we lost and–and the troubles, but that went away after they fed us and showed us such a good time.
I: What is Korea to you personally? If you’re asked to characterize in one sentence.
R: I would say it was the biggest experience of my life number one. And, I’ve yet to meet friendlier people, honest friendly people and that’s not something they put on, you know, uh– you could feel it that–that they’re sincere in what they–they thought and when they–they explained to you, you know, welcome, welcome, welcome and the–the things that they do for you. And then, to see the–the magnitude the–the–the
change in the country it’s unbelievable when you–you get off that airplane and you’re into that airport, that’s one of the biggest airports I’ve ever seen and–and well and so clean, and the streets are clean and every place you go is nice. There’s no wrecked cars, there’s all nice cars. You know, you see that right away. Its just, I–I was glad that I had a small part in–in had this happen. I didn’t do it myself, but that–I had a small part in making it possible.
And I–I was very proud of that.
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