SACKVILLE, N.B. – There are things Lorne Small would rather not remember from his time in the Korean War.
Serving with the Canadian Army in the engineering unit, Small was sent right to the front lines when he arrived during the height of the war in 1952.
He saw so many good friends killed, including one who was hit with a shell only days after Small’s arrival.
He witnessed children wandering the streets, dressed in burlap sacks in the dead of winter, cold and emaciated and alone because their orphanage had been bombed.
He watched as severe weather, including heavy monsoon rains, washed out roads and bridges on a regular basis.
He listened to ‘propaganda’ from the other side, playing often through the intercom, telling Canadians their families were at home starving while they were here fighting this war.
Sleepless nights were the norm.
“It was cold in the winter, really wet in the spring, really hot in the summer and the food was rotten. But you got used to it.”
You adapted to the conditions, he says, because that’s simply what you did back then.
These are all memories that sometimes sneak in when Small least expects it. But they are ones he prefers not to dwell on. He’d rather think about the good times, he says, and all the good friends he made during that time.
A member of the Korean Veterans’ Association, Small says he’s been to reunions where veterans, who haven’t seen each other for 40 years or more, meet again and it’s “just like you talked to them yesterday.”
Small is what many would refer to as a ‘career soldier’, having spent 24 years in the service from 1950-1974. He has had postings in more than 50 nations around the world, including Korea, Germany, Egypt, Israel, Venezuela, Jamaica, England, Scotland, Holland, Spain and more.
A Newfoundlander who has called Sackville his home for more than 40 years now, Small enlisted with the Canadian Army at the age of 17. It was almost a given that’s the career path he would take, as he followed in his father’s and brothers’ footsteps. His father had served in the First World War while his brothers were in the Second World War. He also had many uncles, aunts and cousins who had served with the Canadian Army before him.
Small began his training in Dartmouth at ‘Devil’s Battery’ and was then sent to Petawawa, Ontario. He was initially drafted to go to Germany, but with already enough troops sent there, his plans changed and he was soon sent to Korea.
As a member of the 23rd Field Squadron (engineering unit), Small left Seattle for Japan, then traveled by boat to Korea, where they landed in Busan (then known as Pusan). They then took the train to Seoul and, from there, boarded trucks and traveled to the front lines.
The engineers had many duties during their time there including: putting roads back in passable condition; laying land mines and setting booby traps and barbed wire; digging the trenches out and sandbagging them; reinforcing the command posts, observation towers and bunkers; among others. They worked mostly at night, he says, to avoid enemy fire.
The Korean War had already been waging for two years when Small was sent there. It began on June 25, 1950 when North Korean armed forces, backed by the Soviet, invaded South Korea.
The newly-created United Nations supported South Korea and sent troops from 16 member nations, including Canada, to resist the aggression.
All told, more than 26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War and approximately 7,000 continued to serve in peacekeeping duties afterward, between the cease-fire and the end of 1955. The names of 516 Canadian dead are inscribed in the Korea Book of Remembrance.
The war’s combat phase lasted until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Small spent 13 months in Korea and was there when news came the armistice was signed, saying there was a huge sense of relief that it was finally over.
During his ensuing years in the army, where he has been stationed and posted all over the world, Small continued to serve as an engineer but also spent time as a cook and a flight steward.
It was in 1964 when he met his wife Jean, a nurse at the Sackville hospital. He was returning home to Newfoundland after a three-year posting in Germany when he decided to stop over and visit his brother, who was living in Amherst. He was invited to supper by his sister-in-law, who was also a nurse, and who had invited Jean to dine with them as well.
The rest, as they say, is history. The two were married about a year later and, as a nurse, she was able to find work at the various places across the country where Small was posted. Married now for 52 years, the couple have three children and five grandchildren.
Small retired from the army in 1974, then went on to work as a cook and food service officer at the Dorchester Penitentiary and the provincial jail in Dorchester.