A Red Deer man is heading back to South Korea, where the rhetoric may mirror what he witnessed 60 years ago, but the landscape will not.
Donald Holloway, 80, enlisted in the armed forces in his home province of Newfoundland in 1951, one year after the Korean War began. But it was not his desire to take part in the conflict when he signed up for the army.
“At the same time they were recruiting to send a brigade to Europe. That’s where I hoped to end up. As it happened, I went from Petawawa to Chilliwack for a mines and demolition course, and while I was there the brigade for Europe moved out,” said Holloway.
So, Holloway ended up in another brigade and was sent to Korea. He went with mixed feelings in February 1953, five months before the ceasefire ending the Korean War would be signed.
As a corporal in the 59th Field Squadron Engineers, Holloway’s duties mostly involved clearing minefields.
Holloway concedes with a laugh that at his age he doesn’t remember much of the experience, but he recalls some of the hardships he witnessed south of what is today the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas.
“The thing that really shook me was the people. They were so poor, they were literally begging, especially the children. Even though I was young and single I had a soft spot for children even back then.”
Holloway — along with his son Doug, 35 other veterans and federal Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney — will spend a week in South Korea as part of that country’s Revisit Korea Program. The delegation will participate in remembrance ceremonies in Seoul, Busan, and Gapyeong, visiting grave sites and memorials.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, and was deemed the Year of the Korean War Veteran by the federal government.
The trip will correspond with the 62nd anniversary of the April 24 and 25 Battle of Kapyong, in which an outnumbered Canadian contingent valiantly defended against a hilltop position against Chinese forces fighting for the North.
Holloway came to Red Deer in 1977, serving at CFB Penhold until his retirement in 1982. Here, he has met other veterans through the local Korea Veterans Association branch who have been back to South Korea since the war ended and seen a much different country.
“I was hearing stories about certain areas that we had been through that have now sprung up and are cities or big industrial areas, so I’m anxious to see it. … Lots of places where we were were just little rice paddies and hills, and little shanties where people lived and apparently it’s all disappeared and it’s a pretty nice place now,” he said.
North and South Korea remain technically at war — a ceasefire, not a peace accord, was signed 60 years ago — and tensions have ramped up recently, with North Korea saying it has entered a “state of war” with the South. But Holloway is more excited about riding a South Korean bullet train than fearful of the current threats.
“I’ve been on this earth for 80 years and I’ve heard so much of this … especially with North Korea.”
During the three years of the Korean War, 26,000 Canadians served and 516 lost their lives.