Veteran hopes for better recognition for young soldiers

They were both wars Canadian soldiers fought in distant lands for reasons that many of their fellow Canadians did not understand.

They were both wars Canadian soldiers fought in distant lands for reasons that many of their fellow Canadians did not understand.

But Korean War veteran Andrew Moffat hopes the young soldiers returning from Afghanistan will get a better reception than he did in 1953.

“I hope they don’t have to go through what we did,” said the 85-year-old Red Deer resident who is part-president of the Korean Veterans’ Association, Branch 67.

From being turned away from legions that then catered exclusively to First and Second World War veterans, to hearing people ask “What is Korea?” Moffat said.

“It was very discouraging and it left a lot of veterans very bitter.”

Moffat, a lieutenant who was with the Royal 22 Van Doos artillery unit, now recognizes that he returned with post-traumatic stress syndrome — a condition that wasn’t medically recognized. Unlike those with physical injuries, the mentally injured did not receive financial help, he added.

Some 26,000 Canadian troops fought to stop the spread of Communism in Korea, and 516 Canadians died.

But Moffat said it still took the federal government 40 years to recognize Korean War veterans with a medal.

“There was no ceremony. I got my medal in a brown envelope through the regular mail,” said Moffat. Although a note accompanied it, he doesn’t recall a thank-you.

He believes soldiers now returning from Afghanistan will not be treated so shabbily — in part because other Canadians have a much greater awareness and respect for what they have been trying to do in that country — even if they don’t fully understand it.

“I think the turning point was the four (soldiers) from Edmonton who were killed by friendly fire,” said Moffat, who believes the Defence Department “dealt with it in a superb manner. There was a lot of sympathy.” He added the “four lads” did more for their country than they could have known.

The more than 55,000 Canadians who served in the Afghan mission are supposed to be benefitting from revamped government services and benefits, such as vocational retraining programs, lump-sum payments for certain injuries, and two years of financial help that can enable some veterans to go back to school.

While some soldiers are already complaining about a huge bureaucracy getting in the way of receiving benefits, Moffat said at least the Royal Canadian Legions are welcoming them. And he believes other Canadians cannot be as ignorant of the Afghan mission because of extensive, daily media coverage.

Comparatively Moffat said there were only two Canadian foreign correspondents covering the Korean War (one of them was to become Quebec Premier René Lévesque). “And I don’t know whether many of their stories were even picked up by the wire service.”

In dedication to Korean War veterans, including 23 local veterans, a brief memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on July 27 at the Red Deer Cenotaph on Ross Street. It will mark the 61st anniversary of the start of the war and the 58th anniversary of the ceasefire.

Moffat notes a peace treaty was never signed between North and South Korea, so the war was never effectively over.