© Thomas Becker – Amherst Daily News
Ralph McKay looks through pictures of his 14-month tour of duty in Korea.
By Thomas Becker
Amherst Daily News
AMHERST – In 1951, a 17-year-old Ralph McKay enlisted in the army.
The Korean War had already begun and Canada was training another wave of soldiers that would eventually join their countrymates in hostile battlegrounds.
McKay was sent to the First Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Ontario, where he began his training. Shortly after, he was sent to Alberta for advanced field training.
April Fools day, 1953, McKay was called into the Third Battalion. They told him he was leaving for Korea in 14 days.
It was no joke as, at age 19, McKay prepared himself for battle.
“All my friends who I trained with were going, so I was anxious to go with them.”
The anticipation soon turned into a reality check.
McKay and his colleagues spent 18 days in a crowded boat in less than ideal conditions.
“The ships were not very comfortable,” he said.
The trip across the Pacific Ocean eventually led McKay and the battalion to a mountain called Hill 355, with a clear sight of the enemy.
“It was very scary, everything was scary.”
People were starving he said, the first thing he remembered seeing, fresh of the boat, was a farmer with a cart filled with dead dogs.
“They were eating dogs, that’s how hungry they were. That’s what struck me bad. I’m a dog lover and I love animals.”
To McKay it was the unknown world, he had seen nothing like it before.
“It was a horrendous time, we had horrendous lifestyles, we lived in trenches and conducted night patrols, it wasn’t pleasant,” he said.
McKay isn’t always comfortable talking about the war part of the experience, but does acknowledge it as being part of what made him the man he is today and he continues to reminisce about his time abroad and Canadians are there to join him.
In early January, Minister of Veteran Affairs, Steven Blaney and Senator Yonah Martin, announced that 2013 will mark the Year of the Korean War Veteran, to pay tribute to the 27,000 Canadian men and women who fought in the war.
The yearlong tribute also coincides with the 60th anniversary of the armistice that brought about a conclusion to the fighting and left an uneasy peace that continues to be threatened to this day.
McKay said he always felt the Korean War never really got the recognition it deserved in Canadian history, but is encouraged by the yearlong tribute.
“Our time was due. We were the next in line to be honoured,” McKay said with a smile.
McKay returned home in 1954, after a 14-month tour of duty. McKay and his colleagues felt neglected when they returned, as no one greeted them back from the war, it was little frustrating, he said.
“We just came home and they dropped us off. We were so close to the second world war that people were still in the ambiance of the world war.”
That’s not the case anymore.
On June 20, McKay will travel to Ottawa for a week, where events will be planned to honour the Korean War Veterans and their families.
“It’s always an honour to be recognized for our service.”