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Remembering the Patricias at Kapyong

As dusk deepened on Hill 677 near the Korean village of Kapyong, twenty one year old Reginald Sidney Turner must have wondered if he would live to see morning. Private Turner was one of approximately seven hundred members of Second Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry. Reg Turner would survive the night and in another two years, become my father. This blog post is meant to honor both his memory and those of his fellow Patricias.

The Korean War erupted June 25, 1950 when the communist army of North Korea invaded the democratic Republic of South Korea. American president Harry Truman helped organize a United Nations response to repel the communist aggression. Canada would send military forces to aid in defending South Korea. When primarily American forces reached the Yalu river border of communist China, roughly four hundred thousand Chinese soldiers attacked. By the spring of 1951, the combined North Korean and Chinese armies had advanced into northern South Korea and threatened to capture the capital of Seoul. They entered the Kapyong valley and were poised to attack Seoul.

During the night of April 24/25, the Patricias dug in on the heights of Hill 677 and prepared for the Chinese assault. Despite being outnumbered about eight to one, the Patricias held their ground. At one point during the long night, they were forced to call in UN artillery fire on their own positions to contain the enemy. However, the Patricias were marooned on the hilltop and by morning supplies of ammunition and food were running dangerously low.

The commanding officer, Colonel Jim Stone, radioed for air drop resupply at 4.00 a.m. and six hours later, four American C119 airplanes dropped everything that was needed. Later in the day, a resupply route was opened and the Patricias were withdrawn. Ten men had been killed and twenty-three wounded. The number of dead Chinese will never be accurately known but fifty of their dead were counted in one section of the Patricias line.

For their valor, the American government awarded the second battalion the Presidential Citation for “outstanding heroism and exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.” This was the first time Canadians had won the award.

My dad returned to Canada, took his release from the army and began a family. However, he rejoined the Patricias and the second battalion in the mid fifties. Many of the men he served with in Korea had remained with the battalion. For years afterward on April 24, he could be found in the enlisted men’s mess with his buddies while toasting comrades both present and departed.

Tonight, I sit wondering if I would have been equal to the test those brave men faced on that long ago night. I never put on a uniform; Dad did not want his sons joining the military as he was somewhat bitter the Canadian government seemed to quickly forget about Korea and the service twenty five thousand Canadians rendered there.

Apart from our mother, and possibly his children, Dad was proudest to be a Patricia. At the seventy fifth anniversary of the regiment held in 1989 in Calgary, I watched his chest swell with pride when the ‘old’ guard was summoned to form ranks and march past. Sadly, mom and dad tragically perished just over four months later. I only had to make one telephone call and many of dad’s Patricias brethren attended the funeral.

To honor my father’s memory, I attended the regimental one hundredth anniversary in Edmonton in 2014. In 1970, dad was part of the color party commemorating the fifty fifth anniversary of the Battle of Frezenberg near Ypres, Belgium. In 2015, I attended the one hundredth anniversary of this famous battle. When the old guard formed up to march past the colors, dad’s spirit was front and centre.

Once a Patricia, always a Patricia.

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