After putting his life on the line to protect South Korea during the Korean War, Tory Hill resident James Lee was honoured with an Ambassador for Peace Medal Sept. 11.
Government, Legion and Korean Veterans Association officials gathered at the Wilberforce Legion branch to honour the 92-year-old. Korean Veterans Association of Canada Unit 26 project director HooJung Jones Kennedy bestowed him with the commemorative medal, issued by the Republic of Korea to those who served there during the war.
Lee said he was surprised to be awarded.
“Lot of people probably deserve it more than I do,” Lee said. “Guess I’m lucky to be able to receive it.”
Lee was honoured alongside fellow Highlands East Korean War Veteran Chuck Viner, who previously received his medal during a Korean War revisit program in 1986. Dignitaries gave speeches and discussed the history of the Korean War and the 26,791 Canadians who served during it.
Korean Veterans Association of Canada member and retired Major Don Kennedy said the medal is made with pieces from the barricades at the demilitarized zone splitting North Korea and South Korea.
“What it signifies is James and Chuck and other veterans, they formed a barrier with their bodies across the Korean peninsula,” Kennedy said. “By doing so, they saved South Korea.”
Federal dignitaries also offered letters of appreciation, including Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale and Senator and honorary patron of the Korean Veterans Association of Canada Heritage Unit Yonah Martin, who was unable to attend in person.
Viner said it means a lot to see more recognition for the conflict, which occurred between 1950-53 with 16 United Nations countries coming to aid South Korea to repel an invasion by North Korea, eventually ending in an armistice.
“When I first left the military way back in 1953, the Korean War, nobody knew about it. It was so close to the Second World War, that the Korean War was kind of a non-entity by comparison,” Viner said. “For a long time, it wasn’t even considered to be a war, it was a police action.”
Both veterans described the difficulties of being on the front lines. That included near-death experiences, with the sides battering each other with shells. In total, 516 Canadians died in the conflict, with 1,558 wounded and 21 missing in action.
“It was crazy sometimes,” Lee said.
“It was frightening,” Viner said. “A lot of times at night I’d be on guard duty and I’d be alone, it was scary. You didn’t know what was around.”
But the ceremony recognized that sacrifice, and the difference it made to the people of South Korea.
“I’m just happy to have been there and did my bit,” Viner said. “I’m just glad I was a part of it.”