‘The great fighting spirit of Canadians’: Why my parents immigrated here after the Korean War

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As Canadians safely mark Thanksgiving this weekend, others are already looking ahead to next month and how the global pandemic will impact Remembrance Day services and the annual poppy fund campaign. Nadia Stewart reports – Oct 10, 2020

When my family immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 1994, I was just a child. Not even four years old and learning the basics of the Korean alphabet.

By the time I began meeting other neighbourhood children and making friends, I was given a new name to help the transition from one life to another.

My name is Jawn Jang and I wouldn’t be here writing this today without the courage and sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers during the Korean War.

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

They call it the “forgotten war,” but the impact of the Korean War is still very much felt today even if it only lasted three years.

My grandmother on my father’s side was born in 1928 in what is now North Korea.

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By the time the war broke out, my grandmother was lucky enough to have already moved south of the 38th parallel.

The same could not be said for many of her relatives and best friends.

She would live out the rest of her life without ever hearing from cousins, aunts and uncles. Although they were only a few hours’ drive away, they were living in another world.

Read more: Canadian veterans keep memories of ‘forgotten’ Korean War alive 70 years later

Her husband — my grandfather — actually served during the war, as all able-bodied young men did during that time. He would eventually rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Republic of Korea Navy and saw action throughout the conflict.

But make no mistake: The Korean War could have ended with a Communist victory had it not been for the courage and sacrifices made by United Nations forces that came to defend South Korea.

Of the many nations that answered the call, the fact that Canada chose to join a fight happening halfway around the world brings me a great sense of pride. More than 26,000 Canadians participated, with 516 total casualties among them.

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Virtual visits by veterans in 2020 – Nov 10, 2020

Even after the armistice was signed in 1953, Canadian soldiers remained in Korea for three years as military observers.

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When my parents made the decision to immigrate, Canada wasn’t a random choice as their destination. It was a carefully thought-out plan that had been widely discussed with my grandparents about pursuing better opportunities.

It was in these discussions that my grandfather brought up the great fighting spirit of Canadians that he personally observed during the war. He also commented on their friendliness and willingness to learn basic Korean words to communicate more easily with Korean troops on the frontlines.

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After his military service ended, my grandfather stayed at sea and worked for a cruise line, visiting many countries around the world on trips with many Canadians. Of all the personalities he got to meet, he said he always remembered certain Canadians for their ability to make friends with everyone else.

It was on his insistence that my parents chose to move to Vancouver in 1994.

My very existence is proof that nothing about the Korean War is “forgotten.”

Not by the families of the 26,000 Canadians who answered the call and not by the 52 million South Koreans who enjoy their freedoms to this day.

My name is Jawn Jang and I wouldn’t be here writing this today without the courage and sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers during the Korean War.