Posted by: Bob Ringma | April 2, 2011

My enlistment

The Korean War started in June of 1950, when the North Koreans invaded South Korea by crossing the 38th parallel, which was the border between the two countries.  They captured the South Korean capital of Seoul within days then continued to drive south against weak resistance.  The Soviet Union and China backed North Korea, while the USA stood behind the South.  It was one more marker in the cold war, which had actually started before the end of World War II.

The Americans were caught with their pants down.  When Russia withdrew its troops from North Korea in 1949, the US followed suit by withdrawing its men from the South, leaving behind only 500 advisers.  They had to scramble to prevent the total collapse of South Korea against the invasion from the north.  President Truman decided that it was time to resist the onslaught of communism in Asia, so he committed the United States to the defence of South Korea.  He did so under the rubric of the United Nations, and in short order twenty other countries, including Canada joined the struggle.

As the conflict became the number one item on the United Nations’ talking agenda, people around the world were asking, “Where is Korea?  What’s going on?”  Like so many others, I had never heard of Korea before, but as soon as I learned that Canada, a supporter of the UN, was planning to provide military assistance, I developed a sudden interest. I was anxious to participate, not necessarily to support the UN, but for personal reasons.  At the time, having run out of funds to continue my education at UBC, I was at loose ends in Vancouver. Many of my acquaintances on the campus had been WWII veterans so I’d heard a few war stories. Now, perhaps, was the opportunity for me to pick up some of my own and join the club.  In addition, I had recently received my commission after three summers of officers training. Although I didn’t know my ass from my elbow, I was theoretically qualified to be a leader.  My main motivators however, were a job and the prospect of adventure.

My reasons for wanting to go were genuine enough but to be really honest with myself, underlying them was another, deeper motivator.  In grade school, I was always at the head of the class.  In high school life changed for me.  The competition was greater and the teachers were more distant.  At the same time, life at home had changed.  The war was on and everyone was working.  I was the only one in the family going to school, and it seemed to me that I was alone much of the time.  My grades suffered and so did I.  My outlook improved slightly as I finally matured physically so I made the decision to go to university, hoping to recapture the atmosphere of my first eight years of school.  It was not to be.  I was still alone as far as family life was concerned, and I was the only one who cared about my marks.  To compensate, I looked for a good time, which I found drinking beer with other students in the beer parlours of the Georgia and Devonshire hotels in downtown Vancouver.  Also, I had joined the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps so that I could travel to Montreal for instruction each summer.  Had I been abstemious, my pay as an officer cadet would have covered my tuition at UBC.  However, I was still determined to live it up, so I was forced to quit early in my third year for a lack of funds.  Fortunately, I was allowed to continue with the  Canadian Officers Training Corps which paid off with a reserve force commission.  I regarded the Korean War as a potential lifesaver.  I was down on my luck but determined to do better.  UBC’s motto is “Tuum Est,” “It’s up to you.”  It struck me as a particularly apt slogan for me at the time.

In July, Canada committed three destroyers and a transport squadron in support of the United Nations operation.  At the end of the second war, Canada, like most other western countries, drastically reduced the size of its army, with the result that it had no ready forces to send to Korea.  Therefore, on 7 August our cabinet decided to form a “Canadian Army Special Force” for that purpose. This was my big chance.  I applied to join the force and was accepted. I wondered if they had been short of applicants but, no matter, I was on my way.

Special Force shoulder patch



  1. In the Abbreviations section the MSR is shown as Main Service Route. I checked my old copy of Staff Duties in the Field (I’m a bit of a pack-rat) and Annex C Abbreviations lists MSR as Main Supply Route.

    Old Jack.

    • I won’t argue about MSR; it could well be Main Supply Route and I would accept Staff Duties in the Field as an authority on such things. The people in the Fort Lewis photo are NOT MLBU personnel, except for me. They are all from the OFP HQ. The man to my left is Lance Corporal Fletcher, shorty is one of our drivers while the tall guy is WO1 Gilbert; the sergeant on the end is,I believe, Sgt Garrison. The MLBU expert you are thinking of was Sgt Tony Planinshek, my best Sgt in Korea.

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