70th anniversary of Korean War marked with subdued ceremony amid COVID-19

Parliament Hill is shown in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Wreaths were laid and the call of a single bugle rang out near Parliament Hill as a subdued ceremony was held on Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

The ceremony, attended by a small group of Canadian and Korean officials and a handful of surviving veterans from the conflict, was one of the first of its kind in months after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of numerous military commemorations.

Those included plans to mark the 75th anniversaries of the liberation of the Netherlands in the Second World War and Victory in Europe Day, when Nazi Germany was officially defeated.

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Many of those attending this morning’s ceremony wore masks and stood at a distance from each other even as they came together to mark the sacrifices of those Canadians who fought and died in Korea.

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“It’s important that we have these ceremonies,” 86-year-old Bill Black, who served on board a Canadian destroyer during the war and is now president of the Korea Veterans Association.

“Even if we have to suffer a little bit with numbers down and wearing masks. So be it. We’re not going to forget our Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen who served in keeping countries free. These are days that we will not allow to slip by.”

Around 26,000 Canadians fought in the three-year conflict, which started on June 25, 1950 when Communist North Korean forces supported by China and the Soviet Union invaded the U.S.-backed south.

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Five-hundred sixteen Canadians died during the war, which ended in a military standoff that continues to this day.

Sunday’s ceremony would normally have been held at the National War Memorial next to Parliament Hill, but was moved down the street to nearby Confederation park where the Korean War Monument is located.

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The official delegation was restricted to 10 people and included Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, who recently served as deputy commander of United Nations’ forces in South Korea, as well as politicians, Korean diplomats and veterans.

Under a bright blue sky and amid sweltering heat, those in attendance remembered the fallen while reflecting on the importance of the war, which is described as “the Forgotten War” due to being overshadowed by the Second World War and the U.S. Vietnam War.

READ MORE: North Korea, U.S. in talks to return remains of American soldiers killed in Korean war

The park is owned by the National Capital Commission, which manages federal green spaces in the Ottawa area. The NCC ordered several restrictions — including on the size of the gathering — as a condition for letting the ceremony go ahead despite COVID-19.

Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin, whose father was separated as a child from his family during the war and who is now working to raise awareness of the conflict among Canadians, said it was important to press ahead with the ceremony.

“We were trying to abide by the guidelines to the best of our ability,” said Martin, the first Korean-Canadian to serve in Parliament.

“We would not have done this if the veterans did not want it. But they are quite insistent. They have survived a lot and this is very important to them.”

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While the commemoration was able to go ahead despite COVID-19, attendees were reminded the threat posed by the respiratory illness — especially for older people — when one of the veterans who was scheduled to speak was unable to attend.

Black said the veteran, who was also expected to lay a wreath, was on his way to get tested for COVID-19 on Sunday after calling to say that he had a higher-than-normal temperature and was not feeling well.

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