In the early 1950s, the tyrannical communist regime that still rules over North Korea was unsuccessful in taking over the rest of the peninsula. Al Lynch from Invermere was part the first battalion of Canadians to stop their advance.
The objective of the North Korean army was to gain territory south of the 38th parallel.
“We held the line. They did not advance,” Al said. “They didn’t take one hill.”
From southern Ontario, Al joined the army as a Private in the summer of 1950. He was shipped to Calgary shortly after for training, and was on a ship to Korea by November.
“We landed in Korea on December 18th, 1950,” he said. “And then we embarked from there up onto the highest hill and we spent Christmas there.”
He began heading northbound after Christmas, but after spending so much time crammed on a boat, the commanders needed to toughen up their men.
The Americans allies wanted to commit the Canadian forces — who were still fresh off the boat — right from the onslaught, but Al’s colonel refused .
“He wouldn’t go for that – he had a letter in his pocket from Ottawa that he wouldn’t send us in until they had us in physical shape.”
It was in February of 1951 when Al first engaged the enemy — and that action was intense.
“We chased guerrillas and climbed mountains — that got us in shape,” he said. “There were mountains as far as your eye can see. Sometimes I used to think there were enough mountains for every soldier that was there.”
“We’d come under fire and I jumped the wrong way. Everybody else went that way and I went the opposite, and I ended up right in the middle of them.”
Al spent hours taking cover in an indent in the snow. He saw the enemies looking and pointing right at him, but they were unable to shoot him from their vantage point. Their bullets were chopping off branches right above him, however.
“The North Koreans didn’t know what they were doing, I didn’t know what I was doing; we got along just fine.”
Just before dark, the North Korean army retreated, and Al returned to safety once he was sure the coast was clear.
“Many days like this, many nights,” he recalled.
Under what was rumoured to be corrupt U.S. leadership, the country’s borders were “yo-yoing” under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur.
According to Al, “Douglas MacArthur was as crooked as they come.”
In November 1950, MacArthur’s efforts brought American forces as far north as the Chinese border, but his ill-prepared advance resulted in a substantial retreat.
“Nobody ever thought that the Chinese were ever considering to cross the border and come in to help the North Koreans, but they did,” he said. “The Chinese just kicked them right the hell out of there, and the (Americans) just about froze up there.”
MacArthur was subsequently removed from command by President Harry Truman, and his replacement ended the Blitzkrieg-style of war.
“The line didn’t stabilize until late 1951, about October, and it stabilized to where it is today,” explained Al.
He said that although he’s aged, the world of geopolitics has stayed the same.
“The Russians were supporting the North Koreans, the Chinese came in to help, and 65 years later, everything’s still the same way it was in 1951. Nothing’s really changed.”
But in South Korea, there’s a world of difference. The Han River, which runs right through Seoul, had just one bridge over it during the war, and it was underwater.
“My wife and I went back in 1991 for a visit, and there were 25 bridges across the Han River,” he said. “There were 24 million people I believe in Seoul and we were in one building, which was 75 stories high. South Korea has come a long way.”
He said that South Koreans have one of the highest standards of living in the world, contrasted to North Korea, which is the opposite.
“They’re probably in worse shape than East Germany was.”
Al returned home in February 1952. He was ready to return for service, but the war ended first. He found work on the railroad for five years, and then five years later, he returned to the army for another stint.
“I always knew I was going to go to the west, and I’ve always wanted to be in the army.”
Between the military and the railroad, Al based his life out of Calgary, and moved to Invermere with his wife Pat upon retirement in 1989.