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'A real bitter war:' Aurora history buff launches campaign for Korean War memorial

At least 20 'local boys' volunteered to fight 'the new enemy,' Bill Newman says
Jan. 13, 2021
Lisa Queen

During a 2016 trip to Seoul to visit his son, Andrew, Aurora history buff Bill Newman fulfilled a long-standing wish to take a guided tour of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

“It was just surreal going into this heavily fortified zone between the two Koreas. The most heavily fortified area, or mined and armed area, in the whole world,” Newman said.

In Panmunjom, they witnessed the site of the 1953 armistice signing between North and South Korea and in Seoul, they visited the Korean War memorial and museum, which honours soldiers, including 29,000 Canadian troops, who fought to keep South Korea free of communist rule.

Back in Aurora later that year, Newman attended a Remembrance Day service at the War Memorial Peace Park.

While the park pays tribute to veterans of the First and Second World Wars and the war in Afghanistan, he realized there is no recognition of Korean War veterans.

“I think that deserves to be recognized. It was a real bitter war. And we never hear about it,” he said.

What has been called the Forgotten War, the bloody conflict claimed almost five million lives, including 516 Canadians.

Noting that many other communities have Korean War memorials, Newman launched a campaign to bring a similar recognition to Aurora.

“It is a significant moment and people did volunteer to serve their country, to fight the new enemy, as it were at the time, of communism,” he said.

“It wasn’t Nazism anymore, now it was communism.”

At a committee meeting last month, Aurora councillors endorsed the memorial following a presentation by Newman and Aurora Legion president Lori Hoyes.

Hoyes believes a memorial would show Aurora remembers, honours, and respects veterans of the war.

As part of his research on the war, Newman discovered that at least 20 local men from Aurora, Newmarket, Oak Ridges and King Township had volunteered to serve, including 11 from Aurora specifically.

That included two, Claude White and W.H. Dowell, who also served in the Second World War.

None of the “local boys” were killed, although two were wounded, Newman said.

While volunteering at the Aurora Museum and Archives, Newman spoke of his plans for a memorial with curator Shawna White, who is now helping him apply for a Veterans Affairs grant.

“Aurora's Peace Park stands as a testament to the town's legacy of honouring local veterans and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” White said.

“The absence of a Korean War memorial within our town needs to be rectified and I'm pleased that the process to create a permanent Korean War memorial has begun.”

A memorial would recognize Korean War veterans who fought for a free and open society, White said.

Discussion of the memorial has evoked family memories for Coun. Harold Kim, who is of Korean heritage.

“Prior to the start of the Korean War, no one ever believed a civil war would ever erupt. As a result, my parents lived their everyday lives, as did all Koreans, under the umbrella of war not thinking that it would ever happen. My mom lived in what is today is North Korea, while my dad lived in Seoul,” he said.

“My mom’s father was in the import/export business. He did well for the family. When the news hit the public psyche that war was about to break out, he had to make a decision whether to leave everything he built or hope for the best and stay. He made the correct decision in hindsight to leave everything.”

With all the family possessions they could carry, Kim’s mother’s family walked 300 kilometres to Seoul over several months.

There, everyone had to fight to get on a freight train to the southern city of Pusan.

“My mom and dad lived on food from the allied countries as all the food crops were destroyed. They remember the allied UN soldiers coming in to fight back against the north,” Kim said.