It was a proud moment for veterans and their families at the Kamloops Legion on Monday as seven soldiers were honoured by the Korean government for their service during the Korean War.
Kangjun Lee, representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Vancouver, draped the Ambassador for Peace Medal over four veterans and presented relatives of three others who have since passed away with the medal as well.
Standing up to accept the medal with the help of his son, 86 year old Gerry Klein told KTW it feels nice to be appreciated.
Seeing what South Korea looks like today gives him a sense of pride in his service.
“When I was there, Seoul was just a bombed-out city,” Klein said.
Klein, who’s called Kamloops home for decades, went to war at the age of 18.
In Korea he was on the front lines three months at a time, Klein served as a mechanic in the tank outfit B Squadron of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment. About a year into his service the truce was signed.
Gerry’s son, Grant Klein was happy to see his father’s service appreciated and that the Korean consulate hasn’t forgotten, noting the Korean War is often overlooked.
Growing up, he said his dad didn’t talked about the war.
“I can just imagine what they went through and what they saw there,” he said. “Today we call it post traumatic stress syndrome.”
When his father did open up, Grant said, it was clear he was proud of his service.
Stephen Lowry, 71, who’s called Kamloops home since 2015, accepted the medal on behalf of his late father, flight lieutenant Bob Lowry.
Lowry was one of 22 Canadians who served as exchange pilots with the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, serving in the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Stephen told KTW.
He said his father flew 50 combat missions and had his wife’s name on the nose of the Canadian-made Sabre jet he flew.
Stephen had a clear sense of pride when describing his father’s heroic exploits — as an aviation buff he’d often ask his father questions over the years, collecting snippets of information.
During his childhood, Stephen said he would sometimes overhear his father talking about the war with friends during parties.
“He wouldn’t really talk directly talk to us, but when he was in high spirits with friends and so on we could listen through walls and here certain things,” he said with a laugh.
Robert Freeston’s service in Korea was inevitable.
His father served in both world wars and his two brothers served in the Second World War.
“It just continued down,” said Freeston, who was 17 when he left his home in Montreal to join the war effort.
Freeston spent about a year and a half in Korea as an artillery gunner, a job that’s left him wearing hearing aids today.
He said Canada “is a country worth fighting for.”
Monday’s ceremony left Freeston, who currently resides in Kamloops, feeling respected for the service he and his fellow soldiers made nearly 70 years after the war broke out.
Freeston’s son, Denis, who’s also served in the military, said he’s proud of his dad and the medal is well-deserved.
Also honoured was veteran Jim Barlow, John Smith, Chester Kenyon (deceased) and Barry Lister (deceased).
Kenyon’s daughter, Brenda Reid, and Lister’s wife Bev — along with his grandchildren Evan Lister and Nathan Daulk received the medals on behalf of their loved ones.
The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded its southern neighbour.
The conflict lasted for three years and claimed the lives of 516 Canadian troops.
About 27,000 Canadians fought in the war.
Lee said without the contribution and sacrifice of those young men South Korea wouldn’t have become the prosperous democracy it is today.
“On behalf of the Korean people and the government and as Consul of the Republic of Korea, I’d like to express our unwavering respect and gratitude for the Canadian solders’ services and sacrifice during and after the war,” Lee told the crowd before the medal presentation.
He said the peace medal is a small token of the Korean people’s gratitude for those who helped defend their country.