Canadian vet brothers to be reunited after deaths
GAPYEONG, Gyeonggi - Three volleys of a gunfire salute by the United Nations Command Honor Guard cut the air in this otherwise placid Gyeonggi county, 63 kilometers (39 miles) northeast of Seoul, in the memory of a fierce battle waged here 61 years ago and the one Canadian soldier who survived.
Debbie Kakagamic watched the tribute with her teenage son Walker and dozens of other Canadians commemorating the anniversary of the April 22-26, 1951 Battle of Gapyeong, thinking of her father, Archibald Lloyd Hearsey, who survived it.
“He had a big framed picture of Gapyeong in his room,” she recalled. “I thought of him looking at the photo today.”
Six months later, Hearsey would survive another battle on Hill #187 in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi, north of Gapyeong. That would be the day of his greatest tragedy. Stumbling into the battle, he discovered that his older brother Joseph William Hearsey had enlisted, been shipped to Korea, and was fighting alongside him.
Joseph would die on Hill #187 - in his younger brother’s arms.
The group of visiting Canadians have brought the ashes of Archibald, who died last June, to be reunited with the remains of his brother Joseph. They are the first two foreign siblings who fought together in the Korean War to be reunited in this way. Archibald left a will asking his family to try to make it happen.
Their story is one of brotherly love that survived death.
Born in Ignace, Ontario, in 1929, Archibald joined the Canadian Armed Forces on Sept. 5, 1950. His Princess Patricia Light Infantry 2nd Battalion was sent to the Korean War the following February.
According to the families and those who knew the brothers, Joseph, who was one year older than Archibald, became concerned about the safety of his younger sibling. Without informing him, Joseph quit his job at Canadian Pacific Rail to join the same battalion as his younger brother on Jan. 6, 1951, and was sent to Korea in July 1951.
Continuous fighting kept the brothers from communicating with each other over the following months, and Archibald was never informed that his older sibling was fighting with him in the same battalion, said friends of the family.
In October 1951, a battle took place on Hill #187 and Joseph was assigned to a defensive position in a foxhole that his brother was originally supposed to occupy, those with knowledge said.
The battle lurched on for several days, and on Oct. 13, 1951, Archibald was reassigned to the front line. When he arrived, soldiers started shouting to him, “Your brother is here!” It was the first time he realized his sibling was in Korea.
He followed the voices to the foxhole where he found Joseph dying from a shot through the right shoulder, family members said. Archibald held Joseph in his arms and watched as his brother’s life ebbed away.
His last view of his brother was of his body wrapped in a groundcloth being dragged away, a memory that plagued him until he died last June, Kakagamic said.
“He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and every night when he was going to bed, he relived the moment his brother died,” she said. “His hands used to be black and blue, like he was fighting in his sleep, hitting the wall. He hardly slept because every time he tried, he would see those visions.”
The Kakagamics came to Korea on Sunday to fulfill Archibald’s last wish at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery today, where his brother’s remains have rested since Oct. 27, 1951, two weeks after he died in battle. The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Embassy in Seoul are set to host a memorial service and a joint burial event.
“I am happy we are doing this for him,” said Archibald’s grandson Walker. “It’s going to be sad to leave him here, but it’s what he wanted.”
His daughter said she is grateful for Korea’s support to honor her father’s wish. Joseph Hearsey was one of 516 Canadian soldiers who died during the three-year-long war, which produced around two million to three million casualties.
“It was our forgotten war, but men and women who served here, they knew it otherwise, as do we,” said David Chatterson, Canada’s ambassador to Seoul, at the memorial service in Gapyeong yesterday.
Park Sung-choon, minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, said Korea will always appreciate those who sacrificed themselves. “Gapyeong, which was demolished by shellfire 60 years ago, has been transformed into a peaceful place,” he said. “One thing, however, has not changed: our respect and appreciation for your dedication and service.”
Donald Coultas, one of the 50 Canadian Korean War veterans who is in the memorial delegation, said he is aware of North Korea’s continuous threats toward the South. But, he said, their service during the Korean War drew a line that the North wouldn’t pass over again.
“China doesn’t want war, everybody does business with China,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to that.”
By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]