Three Sunshine Coast veterans were presented with the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) Ambassador for Peace medal, July 7.
Robert Stiles, Bruce Pelly and Raymond Clarke were given the medals on behalf of the Korean government and the Korea Veterans’ Association of Canada. A fourth recipient, Richard Proctor, could not attend due to family commitments.
“Without their sacrifice and contributions, today’s Korea, and me, would not exist,” said Yeon-Ho Choi, the consul general in Vancouver for the ROK. “We Koreans, we didn’t forget their contribution. We will not forget what they did for us.”
On June 25, 1950, forces from the northern Korea peninsula marched across the 38th parallel to engage the South.
An international crisis with Cold War overtones saw Canada contribute more than 26,000 men to the Korean effort, according to Veteran’s Affairs Canada.
That number was enough to mean “Canada’s military contribution was larger, in proportion to its population, than most other UN [United Nations] participants.”
Choi was born after the conflict, but he said its effects have resonated throughout his lifetime.
Recent provocations by North Korea demonstrated for Choi why the efforts of Canadians, those like the men honoured on Saturday, had spared millions from the Kim family dictatorship.
Two events were fresh in Choi’s mind before handing out the peace medals. In March, 2010, a South Korean warship, the ROKS Cheonan, was torpedoed and sunk by a North Korean submarine.
Later that year in November, tensions again rose when Korea was condemned for the naval bombardment of the island Yeonpyeong.
When asked why he felt it was important to award the veterans, Choi said, “The first and foremost reason is they are coming of age … We don’t have much time to express our gratitude for their contribution.”
A UN mandate was all Stiles of Garden Bay had needed to volunteer for the effort. As a matter of fact, he considered it essential.
“I thought it was quite an award. Surprised, big surprise, I never knew it was coming, so I’m quite pleased to get it,” he said.
Sechelt’s Clarke spent 14 months in the hills and valleys of the Korean peninsula, “beautiful country” he felt was worth defending.
“When somebody else is in trouble, with problems, you help out as much as you can,” he said. “Same as you would your neighbour here. It would be the same.”
Pelly said Korea should be remembered, especially when modern conflicts arise amidst the politics of disorder.
“You’ve got to stand up for your rights; they can’t afford to take a back seat,” he said. “There’s things that are right and things that are wrong. If they’re wrong, you have to fix it. It’s just what you have to do.”
The ceremony took place at the Legion in Sechelt.
In addition to the consul, the delegation included Donald Lee, chairman of the Korean Society of BC for Fraternity and Culture. Korean Veteran Association’s Western Canada chapter was also represent by its president Steve Chang, as well as the man who held the title previously, Sonny Son.