War clouds are looming over the Korean peninsula as tensions rise to a fever pitch in that divided country.
You would think it would be the last place on earth someone would want to go for a visit right now, but Lee Faulkner is going and he's not concerned.
He doesn't think North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going to go to war and besides, no matter what happens, it's highly unlikely the situation would be worse than it was the first time he went.
The Qualicum Beach resident jetted to South Korea on Saturday along with his wife, Alma as two of 36 invited guests who will join the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie, on a tour of the Republic of Korea, from April 22 to 27.
While in Korea, the group will participate in a number of ceremonies of remembrance, in Seoul, Gapyeong and Busan.Young heroes when the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago, these veterans average 80 years of age now.
Faulkner served in 1952 and '53 as a young corporal in the front lines with the Royal Canadian Regiment.
"I lost a lot of men under my command and I am going back to honour them at the UN cemetery in Busan," Faulkner said. "Those boys are buried there and I want to pay my final respects to them while I'm still capable of getting around."
His service in Korea was no picnic and he bears the mental scars of that time to this day.
"I served on a very infamous and terrible place, Hill 355, at a place called Kwang-San," he said. "It was the highest hill in the area that the First Commonwealth Infantry Division was occupying. Our battalion was spread from the valley up one side and down the other. I spent three months in that place."
That deployment ended on the morning of Oct. 24, after his company of 115 men was swarmed by several thousand North Korean and Chinese troops.
"They attacked the position on the night of Oct. 23 after shelling the position for a good week," he remembered. "Everything caved in, dugouts, bunkers, whatever. They attacked us as the sun was going down in our face at 5:45 p.m. By daylight, 37 of us walked off that position. In our company there were 14 captured, 40 or so wounded and somewhere between 18 and 22 killed, with three or four missing."
The Chinese soldiers were able to execute a pincer movement and completely isolate the position. The situation was hopeless.
"My lance corporal was killed right in front of me. He bled to death right there. I couldn't stop the bleeding," he said. "We were swarmed by bees. I had a submachine gun, but it got so hot it blew up in my face. I just threw it at them and lay down, face up among the dead all around me, mine and theirs. They swarmed over me, ran bayonets through quite a few, but not me. Why?"
He is still haunted by that question to this day. Another mystery however was easier to solve — why did they attack when they had no hope of holding the position?
That, Faulkner said, seems pretty clear.
"It was payback," he said. "They had a list of six names of people they were looking for - all six of us who had gone on a snatch mission a month before —and we weren't very nice to them."
The object of the six-man patrol had been to infiltrate the enemy lines during the night, lay low until dawn and then snatch a prisoner for interrogation.
Three of the team were assigned to do the snatch, while Faulkner led two other men with the fire power. The infiltration went well and the snatch team headed into the enemy camp as they unwittingly began their breakfast.
"In commencing their normal daily routine, they struck up a lively conversation among themselves, spiced with some laughter as soldiers normally do," Faulkner remembered. "They were out of our view, but so very close to us that one of them threw a pan of dishwater over the parapet, which almost landed on me."
Then all hell broke loose.
"The silence was suddenly interrupted with the blood-curdling scream and squeal of an enemy soldier, somewhere to our immediate front," he said. "It was becoming the beginning of a very long day for Wang Teh Shen, as Russ was clubbing him on the head with a blackjack. Then out of nowhere, a group of six enemy soldiers appeared about 50 feet to our left. I immediately arose, kneeling.
"Let's have a party!" he roared and his team of three opened up, taking out all six. Another group of soldiers appeared and again, the fire team was able to put them all on the ground.
Faulkner received the word that the snatch team had been successful and he whispered the code word into his radio to begin the walking barrage that would cover his retreat.
It was a job well done, but, as he was to learn, it had consequences.
As it turned out, the Chinese had a list of six names of people they were looking for — the entire snatch team.
"They knew exactly where to go for those six men," he said. "They put the 14 prisoners they took in a cave in the mountains and lined them up. Without any warning, out of the dark shadows stepped a Chinese officer and in perfect English, said 'which one of you is Cpl. Faulkner?' You can imagine what they had in mind for me."