Veterans touched by gift of face masks, 70 years after start of Korean War
South Korea sent the masks as gesture of friendship and thanks to Canadians who served during war
Canadian veterans and their families say they were surprised and touched by a gesture from South Korea marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War this week.
"What a beautiful privilege it was to read this letter and think that people still thought about us," said Jake McDonald, 86.
McDonald was 17 when he served as a communications signaller with the Canadian Army. He estimates he spent about a year in Korea during the war, which saw fighting end with an armistice declared in 1953.
On June 15, a box arrived at his home in Halifax containing 30 medical face masks and a letter from the Republic of Korea, which is commonly known as South Korea.
"We are especially concerned about the well-being of you who dedicated your youth to protecting the Republic of Korea," the letter said in part.
"In this regard, we have prepared a token of appreciation. This can never match the warm hands you extended to us, but we hope this will help you overcome the current crisis."
McDonald was pleased to receive the masks, as he'd been having difficulty buying any at local stores. But he was just as pleased to read the letter.
"I feel very proud that they remembered some of the guys that were over there. A lot of the guys never came back," he said.
McDonald said he's keeping in mind that South Korea is now fighting against COVID-19.
It became the second country after China to undergo a large outbreak of COVID-19. After bringing the virus under control in April, health authorities in Seoul said Monday the country is seeing a resurgence of cases.
Ron Dunn, who is now 91, was in his early 20s when he sailed on HMCS Huron and HMCS Iroquois during the Korean War. He also received a shipment of masks and a letter.
Ten years ago, Dunn and his wife travelled to South Korea for the 60th anniversary and he marvelled at the way South Korea has been able to rebuild after all its major cities and infrastructure were bombed.
"It's a progressive country, no doubt about that. From what they were, in shambles, it's unbelievable," he said.
Dunn showed the box of masks and the letter to his wife Muriel and his daughter, Linda Hutt.
"When I sat down to read the letter, it just made me tear up," said Hutt.
The letter thanked Dunn warmly saying, "the strangers you saved were our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers and mothers."
"Family was really important to Dad," Hutt said. "He made sure we all stayed connected; we're all very, very close. We talk to each other daily on the phone, we see each other often."
Ambassador Yun Je Lee, the consul general of the Republic of Korea in Montreal, said the gift of masks was chosen because of the level of frailty of Korean War veterans, many of whom are in their 90s. Canada sent more than 26,000 troops to aid in the war effort, with thousands continuing to serve there after the armistice until 1957. There were 516 Canadian lives lost during the conflict.
"This gift is just a small gesture, a token of our appreciation. Because we know how difficult it is to obtain this personal protective gear in Canada at this moment," Lee said.
The country has restrictions in place surrounding the export of medical face masks, but Lee said the country made an exception for the gift of one million face masks that were shipped to Korean War veterans around the world. Of those, 35,000 ended up in Canada and 2,675 in Nova Scotia.
The war between North and South Korea left millions of soldiers and civilians dead, and devastated both countries. Canada sent troops to the Korean Peninsula as part of a United Nations contingent.
North and South Korea have never formally signed a peace treaty and relations between the two have remained strained during the pandemic.