Getting shot at for the first time is Korean War veteran Les Peate’s most vivid memory.
“I was under a bush and all of a sudden thought, ‘this must be birds in the bush because there are all sorts of twigs coming…’ and I realized somebody was firing and the rounds were going about a foot or so over my head,” said Peate, 83.
He was 21 at the time, serving in the British Army, and managed to dodge the bullets.
“I was lucky,” said Peate.
The 516 Canadians who gave their lives weren’t.
The forgotten war was remembered Saturday with a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial.
“For 40 years, people steadfastly refused to admit that it was a war,” said Peate, adding the exception was “Korean vets and their families, of course.”
As dozens looked on, Sung-Hwan Kim, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea, paid tribute to Canadian veterans.
More than 26,000 Canadians served, including sailors and airmen.
“The Korean War had profound regional and global ramifications that still resound today,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird.
“Our government proudly honours the swift and strong contribution of our veterans. We do this to ensure that this key event in our history is never forgotten and that such a conflict is never repeated.”
The Korean War began in 1950 when Communists in the North invaded the South.
It ended in 1953.
Unlike war movies, in which “everybody’s shooting and getting shot at,” Peate said 95% of their time on the front lines was spent in “sheer boredom” and the other 5% was “sheer terror.”
“Most of the time was very quiet,” he said. “That was the boredom part.”
After leaving the army, Peate came to Canada.
“There were two things I hated: One was Ottawa and one was civil servants,” he said. “And when I got out of the army, what was I and where was I?”
Peate, former president of the Korea Veterans Association of Canada, said he’s often asked, ‘was it worth it?’
To see the progress South Koreans have made in the last 50 to 60 years is “nothing short of amazing,” he said.
Sen. Yonah Martin, attending on behalf of Veterans Affairs minister Steven Blaney, said she’s “very pleased to know that the contributions of Canadian veterans are so well respected and honoured in Korea.”