When I went to high school in the United States, every morning began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone would stand up, put the right hand on the chest, and start muttering “I pledge allegiance….” I, standing in the front row, would remain quiet, with my eyes shut and my hands clasped behind my back. I did not think that it was appropriate for me to participate in such a nationalistic ritual as a foreigner, for it would be insincere and therefore disrespectful.
For the same reason, I was at first uncomfortable wearing poppies during the week of the Remembrance Day. I’m a Korean, not a Canadian. I did not have the same kind of connection to Canada that everyone else had, and I thought that my wearing of poppies would signify nothing more than a foreigner’s awkward attempt to fit in and pretend to understand something I did not.
Between 1950 and 1953, the Korean peninsula went through one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. The country was set apart by two contending ideologies, and families and friends were involved in an ironically tragic situation in which they aimed guns at each other in battlefields. It was a civil war, a war between brothers and sisters. Even to this day, my grandmother has family members and friends left behind in North Korea, whom she has never met or heard from since the outbreak of the war. Today, this war remains a bitter and tragic part of the past in the memories of all Koreans.
Approximately 32,000 Canadians fought in the Korean War. There were 1,588 casualties and 516 of them died, fighting in a country that they probably had no idea existed prior to being deployed. Sure, you can be cynical and say that it was part of the power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. But these men ultimately fought believing in something greater than themselves and many sacrificed their lives for these values. Thanks to their sacrifices, South Korea remains a prosperous and free country.
The stories of Canadian soldiers in the Korean War, like that of Archibald and Joseph Hearsey, remind me that their sacrifices ought not to be politicized, as Dave eloquently explained in his article. Regardless of politics, ideologies and nationalities, the courage of the soldiers running into battlefields – in Korea, Dieppe, Afghanistan and elsewhere – for something greater than themselves illustrates a great, if not the greatest, virtue of humanity.
The veterans of the Korean War are often called “forgotten heroes,” for many do not know that so many Canadians fought and fell in the Korean War, and it took 40 years for the Canadian government to acknowledge their sacrifices. The veterans of the Korean War remind me why I, a Korean, should wear a poppy on this day.
Lest we forget.
Dongwoo Kim remembers and appreciates the sacrifices of the Canadian soldiers who served in the Korean War (1950-1953) and elsewhere.