CBC In Depth
The Man The Chinese Couldn't Kill
Reporter: Christopher Grosskurth | CBC Radio News
CBC News Online | Updated July 25, 2003

It's 50 years since the armistice was signed that ended the Korean War. On July 27, 1953, representatives of a United Nations-led force and Communist North Korea signed a truce, not a peace treaty.

The Korean War was the first major conflict of the Cold War. Fifty years later, the Cold War is over but North Korea's nuclear ambitions may foreshadow another more devastating conflict.

The Man The Chinese Couldn't Kill

Gord Manktelow sits in his living room in Barrie, Ontario. Spread out on a coffee table in front of him are memories of the Korean War: a personal letter of appreciation from the South Korean government, black and white photos, newspaper clippings that have turned yellow with age.

Gord Manktelow More than 26,000 Canadians served in Korea between 1950 and 1953. None were luckier to make it back alive than Corporal Gord Manktelow.

In 1952, he made headlines around the world with a byline story by Canadian Press correspondent Bill Boss – The Man the Chinese Couldn't Kill.

"From what I understand, Bill Boss coined the phrase 'The man the Chinese couldn't kill,'" Manktelow says. "I guess from a news media standpoint and probably from my buddies' standpoint also, they were saying, 'What do they have to do to this guy to kill him?'"

Manktelow will never forget that night in March 1952. He was a lance corporal from Ajax, Ont., serving with the First Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, just 20 years old, when he was caught in "no man's land." It was known as Hill 163. Manktelow was part of a six-man forward observation team that was ordered to withdraw under Chinese mortar attack. Manktelow found himself surrounded on all sides by Chinese soldiers.

Gord Manktelow He lay face down – playing dead – after a Chinese soldier stumbled over his body. The enemy pummelled his body with their rifle butts. They bayoneted him. They found a grenade in his hand, placed the grenade next to his left leg and pulled the pin.

"I heard the pin go off in the grenade, sprong and then snap and what they had done was lay the grenade down beside me and they all took off," Manktelow says. "And the grenade went off and it flipped me in the air and over. I felt no pain. It was just a very great shock in the thigh. They should have laid the grenade length-wise, then I would have got all the shrapnel and I would have been done in for sure. But as it was, I just had the base plug and a striker, which is a rod about three or four inches long that activates the grenade, went into my leg, my thigh and that was all I received from that."

He was, by then, lying face up. The Chinese returned, kicked him a couple of times, and then left.

Manktelow lay there weak from loss of blood. His heavy uniform helped blood congeal in some of his wounds. Somehow, he survived a night of heavy mortar fire. He remembers he was semi-conscious when he heard a voice:

"I just saw this figure come up on the rise, over the horizon and I saw the sten gun and the Canadian hat. I guess I made a noise and he said who goes there? I remember saying it's not Jack Benny, for crissakes. I haven't a clue what made me say that, a little bit of bravado or something. Or just release and relief."

Initially, doctors in Seoul wanted to amputate Corporal Manktelow's leg. They were worried about gangrene. But after a skin graft followed by a long, slow recovery at a rehabilitation hospital in Kure, Japan, "the man the Chinese couldn't kill" regained use of his leg.

Meanwhile, the war dragged on. The CBC Radio correspondent at the time was Bernard Caplan. He reported:

"All of the war in Korea has been full of dirt and grime. The fighting on the central front is as dirty and grimy as the last eight months. Yesterday the Canadians stripped off their outer winter clothing to push and pull their vehicles out of the mud Volga boatmen style. They were not a pretty sight and it was not a pleasant job and they didn't always succeed."

On July 27, 1953, the war ended, not in victory but in stalemate. There were no winners or losers, just a truce signed in a little village called Panmunjom.

Back in New York, the president of the UN General Assembly tried to portray the ceasefire in a positive light. The president was a Canadian and future prime minister, Lester Pearson:

"In nearly three years of hard fighting under bitter conditions, the forces of the United Nations command, mainly from the Republic of Korea and United States of America, have carried out their task with courage and determination. The armistice will end the fighting in Korea. As such, it is the first step in a peaceful settlement in that area."

The Korean War quickly became yesterday's news. Many veterans returned home to little or no fanfare – even though 516 Canadians died in the conflict.

John Melady has written a book, called Korea - The Forgotten War Melady says the phrase is as appropriate today as it was 50 years ago:

"For instance on the National War Memorial, the years 1950 to 1953 didn't appear for quite some time. The Korea Veterans Association, had to lobby long and hard for that. You can go across this nation and the war memorials in town parks and wherever, it really took a long time before Korea was even mentioned on them. That's sort of the way it was with various governments, Progressive Conservative or Liberal, that's what happened. They didn't do much for these people and they were left to twist in the wind to some extent."

For years, Manktelow tried to forget about the Korean War. The "man the Chinese couldn't kill" didn't talk about his experiences, even though he stayed in the Canadian Forces for more than 20 years, later training medical and rescue teams at CFB Borden.

He never went back to South Korea. He was worried that familiar sounds and images would bring back painful memories. That changed a few years ago. He finally joined the veterans association. He's now proud to talk about the role Canadians played in the war and he's proud of the letter he received from the South Korean government:


It is my great honour to forward this Presidential Appreciation Letter, from the President of the Republic of Korea, Kim Dae-Jung.

You are the wounded Canadian veterans of the Korean War. You have suffered because of our nation's war. You have experienced injury and pain to assist our nation. You have the right to be uniquely recognized. You may have been severely wounded by shrapnel. You have may have lost your hearing because of a cannon. You may have first degree burns from a train accident. You may have witnessed a comrade killed beside you in your trench. You may have fought next to your own brother, only to lose him. You may have had a dream of becoming one of Canada's best football stars only to loose both your legs. You may remember the horror of being taken prisoner of war.

You may feel emotional horror from your experience everyday. You may feel transported back to Korea the moment you hear that war-time song. You may awake in the mornings from nightmares. Your injury may seem to have occurred many years ago. Your injury may seem like only yesterday. Your suffering may still effect your every moment. You may have just been a young boy when injured. Your life changed for ever.

You are the wounded veterans of the Korean War. You have suffered emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually. The President of the Republic of Korea acknowledges your experience and great struggle. President Kim Dae-Jung sends his gratitude to each one of you. Your experience will never leave you, and in turn we will never abandon our appreciation to you.

Colonel Chi-Hun Lee
Defence Attache


PHOTO GALLERIES: North Korea: A glimpse across a river Train disaster Propaganda
RELATED: South Korea CBC Archives

Christopher Grosskurth's report on Gord Manteklow for the World at Six.
July 25, 2003
[ Real Audio Runs 7:57 ]

Gord Manteklow talks about the night he was caught in a Chinese attack.
July 24, 2003
[ Real Audio Runs 4:16 ]

Cara Weist reports on Canadian veterans who are returnig to Korea after fifty years.
July 20, 2003
[ Real Video Runs 2:14 ]

Ideas: Hidden Korea


Population: 22 million

Area: 121,000 square kilometres, about twice the size of Nova Scotia

Borders: China, Russia and South Korea

Languages: Korean

Religion: Mostly Buddhist and Confucianist.

Government: authoritarian socialist; one-man dictatorship

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World Factbook: North Korea

Korean News

North Korea Government

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