Korean War vets to be honoured this year by Canadian government

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They say war can change a person - Elburn Duffy is a walking, talking example of that.

Duffy, born and raised in Korea, is one of just a handful of Korean war veterans left in Cornwall. Many have passed away in the last 60 years, since a ceasefire in the wartorn Asian peninsula ended the bloody confrontation that cost the lives of 516 Canadians - including six from Cornwall and area.

Those veterans still alive are being honoured htis year by the Canadian government which has declared 2013 the year of the Korean War veteran.

Duffy, just 21 at the time, left the Seaway City as a boy, really, and came home a man.

"When you're young, and your father tells you to do something, you know you just kind of say 'Ok, whatever,'" Duffy said in an interview. "But when you come back from something like that, you take responsibility for what you decide to do.

"The voice of authority, you followed it."

Duffy had to get used to plenty of authority when he left Cornwall in 1950 to join the Canadian army. In April of 1951 he and other Canadians left Seattle, Wash. aboard a U.S. troop ship bound for wartorn Korea as members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Duffy and his fellow Canadian soldiers were unprepared for what greeted them on the Korean shores.

"Have you ever seen starving children?" said Duffy. "I hope you never do.

"That really bothered us...to see kids that were just starving."

Canadian soldiers, said Duffy, made a habit of giving away clothes, chocolate bars and anything else they thought could help the Korean children.

Duffy also saw more than his fair share of combat in Korea - but he said the experiences leave him unwilling to discuss the horrors of fighting.

"I had some upsetting things happen," he said.

Within days of making it to the battelines in Korea, Duffy's battalion was in close contact with Chinese forces at the village of Chail-li. The fighting quickly deteriorated into a war of attrition - with the Canadians embroiled in defensive fighting and frequent patrolling along what would beomce known as the Jamestown Line.

One of the fierecest battles was a Chinese attack on Hill 187, where Canadians were forced to repel 40 enemy personnel in terrible close-quarter fighting.

During its tour of duty, Duffy's battalion suffered 31 killed and 134 wounded.

In all, six from Cornwall and the United Counties were killed in Korea, according to Duffy's estimates. The list includes Paul Gallinger, Donald Steer, Maurice Campeau, Joseph Piche, Joseph Sauve and Milton Vipond.

Duffy feels it's important for Korean War vets to be honoured, considering how much publicity those who died in other combat actions involving Canadian troops, have enjoyed.

"Some of us feel left out," he said. Korea is often referred to as the "forgotten war" in that it happened after the Second World War, but before the focus of Vietnam.

"The only time they would print a picture in the paper is when somebody got killed," he said of the time. "They didn't even know where Korea was. Neither did we, I guess."

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 297 president Ken Heagle said a tribute is being planned for later this year, but added details of just what will be done for Korean War vets hasn't been spelled out yet.

The Year of the Korean War Veteran coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and South Korea.

Geographic location: Cornwall, Korea, Seaway

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