Korean War should be memorialized at Peace Park, say advocates

·4 min read

Aurora’s Peace Park, home to the Cenotaph, pays tribute to the men and women lost in the First and Second World Wars, as well as the more recent Afghanistan conflict. But there is a missing piece of the puzzle and local advocates are hoping government assistance will help fit it into place.

This missing piece a tribute to those who served in Korean War which, between 1950 and 1953, saw eleven Aurorans enter the conflict.

“Starting on June 25, 1950, with North Korea’s invasion of South Korea supported by the Soviet Union and Communist China, the north’s act of aggression drew the condemnation of the young United Nations and promoted the dispatch of an 18-country force, including Canada, to repel the invasion,” says Aurora resident Bill Newman, who has picked up the cause in partnership with the Aurora branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Mr. Newman, with support from Legion president Lori Hoyes, recently made his pitch to Council. His ask was not for money – at least for now – but rather moral support to have the Ministry of Veterans Affairs provide the funding to make a “dignified” monument to the Korean War a reality in Aurora.

He was inspired to help tie up loose ends for Korea veterans after a trip to Seoul in 2016. While there, he toured the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and took in memorials recognizing the conflict, including a memorial to Canada’s contributions at the Korean War Memorial and Museum. When he came back home, he realized there wasn’t that same recognition in his hometown and began his research with an assist from the Aurora Museum & Archives.

“Over the next three years, fierce fighting occurred as the opposing forces initially pushed each other back and forth along the Korean peninsula before battling to an entrenched line along the 38th parallel,” Mr. Newman told Council, underscoring the contributions of local residents. “Albert Armitage wrote in a letter home, ‘It is very cold over here, lots of snow and frost beside the noise. It sure makes a fellow wonder sometimes what is coming next. Some days it is like a quiet day in the hills at home and the next minute everything seems to bust to pieces. One year over here is worse than six in the last war.’

“By the time an armistice agreement was reached on July 17, 1953, the war had taken a terrible toll in lives and devastation. A total of 2.7 million soldiers and 2.5 million civilians lost their lives. There was widespread destruction throughout the south and the north. 22,066 Canadians fought in Korea, of whom 516 were killed in action and more than 12,000 wounded. Luckily, all 11 Aurorans returned home safely as did at least nine others from Newmarket, King and Oak Ridges.”

Today, memorials to Canada’s contributions to the Korean War can be found at monuments from coast to coast, but Aurora is one of the exceptions. Although no Aurorans are known to have lost their lives in the conflict, Mr. Newman says it is “timely and fitting” to recognize what they did to fend off “yet another threat to the freedom and right of self-determination of the world’s peoples.”

“We are requesting through this presentation the involvement of the Town and its staff to design and locate a fitting memorial at the Peace Park to our Korean War veterans,” he said. “We understand the funding for the memorial may be obtainable through Veterans Affairs Canada’s commemorative partnership program for a community war memorial funding. Your favourable consideration of this request would provide overdue recognition to those from our community and surrounding area who served in what is being termed as ‘Canada’s forgotten war.’

“When one of the Legion members heard about this proposal to Council, he remarked with almost a tear in his eye, ‘This is for you, dad.’ May we always remember them.”

Council received Mr. Newman’s presentation and said they would support his effort in any way they could.

“I think we can all agree that you do have our moral support,” said Councillor John Gallo.

This was a sentiment shared by Councillor Rachel Gilliland, who said he appreciated the efforts of all those who have been working to make a memorial a reality.

“I really do look forward to helping out as much as I possibly can and contributing as much as I possibly can,” she said. “I love what you guys are doing.”

For Councillor Harold Kim, who was born in South Korea, Mr. Newman’s campaign had added resonance.

“Coming from a Korean heritage, we certainly appreciate the Canadian contribution to the war and the many lives that were lost in that war. I heard many stories from my parents – my mom was living in North Korea in 1950 – and they were relatively wealthy, my grandparents, and they had to just leave with whatever they had and they literally caught one of the last trains going south. The only thing my mom can remember is carrying a rice cooker. Fortunately, my dad was already in the south so he didn’t have to relocate but it was trying times.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran