Hope move by Ottawa will shed light on Canada’s forgotten war
Ken Griffith says “it’s about bloody time.”
The president of the Hamilton unit of the Korea Veterans Association of Canada was reacting to news last month of a tentative settlement between the federal government and a class action lawsuit by veterans over the government’s long-time practice of clawing back military pensions dating back to 1976.
Ottawa has offered to pay up to $887.8 million and the agreement is expected to be finalized in court on Feb 14.
The federal government has also declared 2013 the year of the Korean War Veteran.
July 27th will mark the 60th anniversary of the cease fire, ending the fighting that began on June 25, 1950 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel into the Republic of Korea.
No peace treaty has ever been signed.
More than 20,000 Canadians took part in the Korean War, of which 516 were killed and 1,558 were wounded.
Korea has often been called The Forgotten War, because few Canadians know about this country’s participation in the Cold War conflict.
Griffith, a 79-year-old former east end resident who now lives in Dunnville, figures most of the 34 members in the Hamilton unit will be eligible to apply for compensation once the settlement is finalized.
He said there are thousands of Canadian Korean War veterans across the country who are still feeling the affects of the conflict.
“The guys are suffering in the hospital, it’s just unreal,” Griffith said. “A lot of money ain’t going to do them much good, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what they were getting.”
Griffith, who suffers form post traumatic stress disorder, served in Korea from May 1952 to July 1953 as a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
His job was to deliver food, ammunition and supplies up some of the large hills that were being held by Canadians and other troops, who were part of the United Nations contingent in the Asian theatre.
Griffith recalls a number of occasions when he came under attack.
“I wanted to get the hell out of the way,” he said. “Just crawl in our hole and hope for the best.”
Griffith said Korea remains a vivid memory for the veterans.
“Korea’s on my mind all the time,” Griffith said. “I think it’s on everybody’s mind who were there.”
Ed Heatley, who came home without the use of his left arm, will be applying for compensation.
“It should be good news for me, but I’m not counting on it until I get it in the bank,” he said.
A frontline soldier with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the 82-year-old east end resident served in Korea in 1950-51.
“It was another adventure,” said Heatley, who recalled the Canadians being moved like cattle in railway box cars on the way to the battlefront.
Heatley’s desire for adventure quickly turned into danger as the large hills he and his fellow soldiers were defending often came under enemy fire.
On Oct. 15, 1951 while on patrol in the low “saddle area” between Hill 355, also known as Little Gibraltar, and Hill 227, a bullet ripped through his left arm.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Heatley, who noted the bullet bounced off his ribcage, exited his chest and went through his right arm.
“If it had bounced the other way, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Doug Clifford said the federal government should double the amount available to Korean War veterans.
“Some of those guys are really hurting,” said the 84-year-old Dundas resident who was an ammunition and supply driver with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corp in Korea from 1950-51.
He came home with malaria.
Norman McGugan was involved in three major battles as an infantry section leader with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from 1951-53.
Like Clifford and Heatley, he will also be applying for compensation.
“I like it very much,” the 88-year-old Ancaster resident said of the settlement offer.
While fighting on Hill 127, an enemy mortar shell exploded nearby sending Heatly flying.
“All I can remember is being up in the air,” he said. “Then I slammed down on to the parapet.”
While he wasn’t wounded in the explosion, Heatley said the blast and other shelling left him with hearing loss in both ears.
HooJung Jones, project coordinator for the Hamilton unit, said the Korean War vets have been waiting decades for compensation.
“We have almost 11,000 Korean veterans still alive and many of them (have) post traumatic stress syndrome plus (disabilities),” she said. “They have not been compensated by the government and this is a huge triumph for many families.”