A South Surrey senior who served in the Korean War nearly 70 years ago was thanked this week for his efforts “in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy.”
Retired Col. Donald McClellan on Wednesday (July 8) was presented with an Ambassador for Peace Medal during a ceremony at Amica White Rock, where he has lived since last September.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendees were masked for the event.
Attended by Sen. Yonah Martin – who is Grand Patron of the Korea Veterans Association of Canada Heritage Unit – as well as Deputy Consul Gen. Yongwook Na (representing the Korean government), Korean War Veterans Association Western Chapter president Woo Seok Lee and McClellan’s daughter Linda, the ceremony was part of a three-year campaign that launched last month to honour the service and sacrifices of Canadians in the Korean War.
This year is the start of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War years, a news release explains. The Korean War Forgotten No More campaign will commemorate various milestones of the war, concluding July 27, 2023 – the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.
The Ambassador for Peace Medal is “an expression of appreciation from the Korean government to veterans who served in the Korean War from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953,” the release states. It is also awarded to veterans who participated in UN peacekeeping operations until the end of 1955.
McClellan served in Korea from 1951-52 as a member of the 57th Independent Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers. He was 23 years old at the time.
“We were the first brigade there,” he told Peace Arch News Thursday (July 9).
“We started planning it in 1950, as soon as the North Koreans crossed the line. The first job we had… was to guard the Han River bridge east of Seoul.
“I won’t tell you stories about that,” he continued, adding, “we didn’t have to fight it, but we shot somebody in the wrong place.
“It was a marine unit going along a north bank in the dark, and our sentry challenged and no answer… so he took a pot shot at them and he hit the fellow sitting up right of the driver and it went off his back into the driver, so he got two people with one bullet.
“We didn’t kill anybody, but it stopped them.”
McClellan said he is proud of the role Canadians played in the conflict – the first brigade group alone was 7,500 troops; in all, more than 26,000 served over the three years, and 516 died.
“I lost a couple of men who were not my friend because they were officers, and men don’t make friendships a rule,” McClellan said.
“I wear a pin every day for one of those men. It’s on my sweater, it’s a little poppy. I don’t know his first name, but his last name was Davis and he was 19 years old.”
McClellan’s 32 years of military service also included time in northern Europe after the war – for NATO in Germany and Belgium – and as a liaison officer to the U.S. army research and development laboratories in Virginia.
Martin on Wednesday spoke of how she and all people of Korean descent in Canada owe their lives to McClellan and other Korean veterans.
A proclamation presented with his medal expresses “everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed.”
“We cherish in our hearts the memory of your boundless sacrifices in helping us reestablish our Free Nation.”