It may be known as the Forgotten War, but Korean War veteran Leonard Wells said he hopes that can change by participating in the Memory Project.
Wells, who was a leading seaman in the Canadian Navy, was one of the veterans invited to the York Cemetery on Mar. 11 to share his wartime experiences. His stories were recorded by officials from the Memory Project, a non-profit initiative that’s been speaking with World War II and Korean War veterans across the country and publishing their stories on an online archive since 2009.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Wells said of the project. “Let’s face it, we read about Columbus. We wouldn’t have known about it unless someone put it down. So we’re doing the same thing, recording history.”
In addition to recording their interview with Wells on audiotape, officials from the project also took pictures of the various medals and documents he brought. The photos and an audio excerpt will all be posted online along with a write up of his personal wartime stories on thememoryproject.com.
“It really gives a human perspective to war,” said Alexander Herd, the initiative’s project manager. “I think we can get very lost if we just simply try to understand conflict by what a textbook says. But if we support that knowledge in the textbook with actual experiences it’s something people can connect to.”
Herd said the project realizes there is limited time to get veterans like Wells to share their stories. For instance, when Wells first set sail for the Korean peninsula, he was 19. Now, he’s 81.
“We’re trying to capture as many living stories of veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War before these generations pass away,” Herd said. “The average Second World War veteran is 88, the average Korean War veteran is 78.”
To date, the Memory Project has spoken with more than 2,500 veterans. Speaking at the event on Mar. 11, Herd said four of those veterans had passed away in the previous week.
The Memory Project does not speak solely with Canadian war vets. Stories from veterans on the other side of the conflicts are also shared.
“Our rule of thumb is that if a veteran lives in Canada we will ask them if they’d like to participate,” Herd said. “We have indeed interviewed German veterans of the Second World War, Italian veterans of the Second World War.
“Just last fall, here in Toronto, we interviewed 28 Korean veterans of the Korean War.”
The Memory Project website is searchable by veteran’s name, service, conflict, operation or battle.
According to Wells, one of the most frightening moments of the war for him was not in battle but when his ship, the HMCS Cayuga, hit a mine.
“We were in a minefield and we could hear the mine scrape the outside of the ship,” he said. “We were waiting for the explosion but it didn’t happen so maybe it was a dud.
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