The Life of Gordon E.G. Brown Part II: Service
This is the second in a series of articles on the life of Korean War veteran Gordon EG Brown.
In the summer of 1951, Gordon and the members of the 1PPCLI were sent to the Jamestown Line, just south of the 38th Parallel, to relieve the 2PPCLI. As part of the larger 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, under the 1st Commonwealth Division, the 1PPCLI fell under the command of Brigadier General John Rockingham, a man who Gordon saw as a “soldier’s soldier,” one whom he, and many others on the line, respected. With the vast landscape torn from fighting, and most of the infrastructure within South Korea devastated, the first thing Gordon noticed was the odour of decay, burnt rubber, and a pungent ‘rottenness’ in the air, noting that you could “smell the country before you could see it.”[i]
Gordon, his battalion, and the majority of the Canadian forces in Korea were thrust into the ‘War of Patrols,’ a figurative chess-match of military strategy and entrenchment. Both sides in the conflict attempted to wait out the enemy, respond accordingly when provoked in short – but deadly – skirmishes, and outlast one another in the never-ending conquest for the high ground along a 30-mile stretch from Chorwon in the North, to Seoul in the South, with the 38th Parallel in between.[ii] Gordon served two six-month-tours from the Fall of 1951 to the Spring of 1952, and was stationed at Hill 355, the highest ground in the area, exactly 355 feet above sea level. The army that held the hill had the best vantage point of enemy supply routes and potential operations. Assigned to regular night patrols, Gordon experienced the anxiety of a potential attack from enemy forces, a fear compounded by Chinese attempts to penetrate the UN line in November 1951.[iii]
The intensity of the shell bursts and the prospect of an imminent and sudden Chinese assault wreaked havoc on the minds of Gordon and several of his fellow soldiers on Hill 355. Patrols were often at night, which made each step the troops made a risky one. Cunningly placed through the ravines and pathways of the hills were trip flares and mines. An errant or miscalculated step over a trip wire would cause a flare to ignite, and trigger a wave of enemy machine gun fire. This particular aspect of the War of Patrols was nerve-racking for Gordon. It was “a waiting game that kept you on edge,” he explained. And the risk was for every living being, including animals. One late evening, two goats tripped a flare, prompting a cascade of enemy fire that tore apart both animals.
The poor living conditions for the soldiers in the hills added to the onerous task of surviving the War of Patrols. Spending weeks in the rough-shot hills was made worse by constantly affixing one’s attention to the distance, where the enemy lay hidden, poised to attack at the first misstep. Gordon today recalls the challenge of living in the Korean hills as similar to the plight of the World War I trench soldier: rat-infested bunkers, water-saturated camps, caked-mud crusted onto everything set onto the ground, a slew of skin ailments from trench foot to frostbite, and many sleepless nights disturbed from the angry din of gun- and artillery fire. It was not uncommon for the odd snake to slither through camp if the conditions were wet enough. The only protection afforded from the elements and noise were log roofs over their bunkers, and whatever heat they could generate from their makeshift gas stoves, of which the soldiers scrounged up whatever they could to cook. Keeping the stoves in operation was a constant process as well, sometimes the men had to use rubber tubes from used windshield wipers as a gas line. As a result, the stoves were dangerous and certainly not standard fare, but given the soldiers’ desperation on the cold, muddy hills surrounding Hill 355, they made due.
Gordon was also assigned the responsibility of manning one of the bunker’s several machine gun stations, with each gun sighted for the surrounding hills. The shifts were for two hours on and off, and the duty required constant and meticulous attention to every detail of the surrounding hillsides. The presence of the enemy was never far from one’s mind, as North Korean propaganda signs were strewn throughout the terrain, taunting the Allies’ in broken English that “your government is telling the lies to you.” Crude enemy cartoon leaflets also exaggerated the war dead, telling Allied soldiers that “The Continuation of the War Only Means Death to You.”[iv] The stress of manning the gun weighed heavily on Gordon, particularly watching the patrols leave, knowing your first shot could either provide invaluable cover fire or it could be a grievous miscalculation, an oversight that could prompt enemy retaliation that could put your comrades in jeopardy. The fear of accidentally hitting your troops with friendly fire was a real dread for anyone manning the gun, particularly during intense shelling periods, when enemy mortar fire rained down on the Canadian position in a cacophony of deafening explosions, gunfire, and shouting. Gordon still suffers from nightmares and PTSD from this aspect of the war, having carried with him the torment of this experience for the past 65 years.[v]
In spite of the psychological anguish of the shelling, the most sobering parts of the Korean War experience for Gordon were witnessing the devastating impact on the innocent Korean civilians , most notably the children, as well as the grim reality of losing his fellow Canadian servicemen in the line of duty. The memories of those men, whom he knew personally as friends, remain stark. Donald (Donnie) Bradshaw, a private from Saskatchewan who Gordon knew from the Princess Patricias, was a victim of the Chinese shelling. Operating a Bren light machine gun, Bradshaw raced from one sheltered position to another, avoiding the hail of mortars . Unfortunately, the shelling caught Bradshaw when he remained in one crater to reload, striking him in the chest and torso. Bleeding profusely, he was placed on a stretcher when a second bomb landed directly on top of him. His body was never recovered.[vi]
Private Earl McIntyre of Windsor, Ontario was another of Gordon’s friends in the 1PPCLI who did not make it home. Gordon met Earl on their enlistment day, their registration numbers only two digits apart, and the two young men bonded during basic training. A lively young man with a keen sense of humour, Earl had made up his mind that he wanted to join the Princess Patricias with Gordon, so the two of them wrote ‘PPCLI’ for all three of their desired choices on their selection cards, ignoring the other two regiments. From there the two trained in Alberta and travelled together for their journey to Korea. Buried in the United Nations Cemetery in Pusan, South Korea, McIntyre was 20 years old, the same age as Gordon was when Earl was killed on January 15th, 1952. The death of his friends and fellow servicemen humbled Gordon with survivor’s guilt, forcing him to comprehend the loss of lives, legacies, and opportunities that were taken away from these young men, on the cusp of the prime of their life, realizing that whatever good they had to offer would never be known. In the case of McIntyre, his lost legacy was especially poignant – as of April 2018, the Korean War Veteran’s Association of Windsor was in search for any of McIntyre’s family to present them with a certificate and honouring their commemoration of a tree planted in his memory on the Highway of Heroes earlier this year.[vii] In June 2018, the author of this article was able to contact the descendants of Earl McIntyre on the Canada Remembers Facebook Page, connecting them with the Windsor Legion. Two more Korean War veterans have also had trees planted in their honour, and the Windsor Legion would like to contact their next of kin to bestow the same certificates to them.[viii]
[i] Personal Interview with Mr. Gordon Brown, Feb 20, 2018.
[ii] John Melady. Korea: Canada’s Forgotten War, 2nd Edition (Dundurn, 2011), pg. 213. See also: Johnston, William, A War of Patrols: Canadian Military Operations in Korea, (UBC Press, 2004).
[iii] Canada Remembers Hill 355 Fact Sheet, Department of Veterans Affairs, Government of Canada, http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/remembrance/history/koreanwar/hill355.pdf
[iv] Sgt (Ret.) Herbert A. Friedman, “Communist Korean War Leaflets,” www.psywarrior.com/HerbBio.html, 2017
[v] Personal Interview with Mr. Gordon Brown, Feb 20, 2018.
[vi] Melady, pg. 218. See also, Barris, pg. 140.
[vii] CBC News, “Windsor Korean Veterans Searching For Next-of-Kin of Fallen Soldiers,” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/windsor-korean-veterans-searching-for-next-of-kin-of-fallen-soldiers-1.4626784, April 19, 2018.
[viii] As of June 2018, Clifford Donald Weir and Robert James Jones are still in need of next of kin to be presented with a certificate for a Highway of Heroes tree commemoration by the Windsor Legion.