Posted by: Bob Ringma | May 11, 2011

Fort Lewis and Korea

One wintry day my pal Sid and I donned sheepskin jackets to drive in my open jeep out to the Fort Lewis training area near the town of Yelm.  Because the jackets lacked epaulettes, we fastened two metal pips to each shoulder as rank badges.  A US Army jeep drove slowly past us at one point and its occupants gave us a very snappy salute.  After they passed, my friend and I looked at one another and burst out laughing, “I think they saw two stars on our jackets.” (At least we hoped they did!)  They wouldn’t have made that mistake had they got a better look at our young faces and our straggly, immature moustaches.

The GIs were properly impressed however, when our Governor General visited the Brigade at Fort Lewis.  He was Field Marshal Viscount Alexander of Tunis.  In deference to his wartime rank, his staff car sported five-star plates.  At the time, the Americans had four five-star generals still alive – George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley, but none of them came anywhere near Fort Lewis.  We Canadians were very pleased that our one and only five-star connection had come to see us.

"Look Ma, I'm a leader"

While we were getting our act together stateside, the war was heating up in Korea.  In September, after the enemy had been stopped at the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur launched a seaborne assault halfway up the Korean peninsula at Inchon.  The landing, supported by gunfire from three Canadian destroyers, Athabaskan, Cayuga and Sioux, marked Canada’s entry into the war.  The invasion at Inchon was followed by a breakout from the Perimeter.  US forces, supported by the Republic Of Korea army and allied formations, such as the British 29th Brigade and the Turkish Brigade, made a rapid advance up the peninsula to join the forces from Inchon.  The push continued across the 38th parallel and, by October 1950, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured.

General MacArthur was so optimistic about the operations during October that he saw no need for the Canadian brigade.  He suggested that Canada might want to immediately send a smaller force to show the flag.  That resulted in the dispatch to Korea in November of the second battalion of the PPCLI, commanded by Lt. Col. Jim Stone.  It was expected to complete its training by the month of March.  However, in December things started to turn sour for the American-led advance into North Korea. The next counterattack by the North Koreans, assisted this time by the Chinese, took the communist forces all the way back to Seoul by January 1951.

The American field commander, General Walker, now wanted 2 PPCLI in the front line.  Colonel Stone had clear orders from Canada that he was to finish his training first.  The memory of the disaster that befell unprepared Canadian troops in Hong Kong in 1941 was still fresh in Ottawa’s mind.  Stone was able to complete the training of his unit in February, after which it acquitted itself very well, winning the US Presidential Unit Citation for its stand at Kap’yong.  (More about that in a future post.)

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Responses

  1. Is Fort Lewis where that officer sat behind his desk with binoculars slung around his neck? I laughed out loud at that one.

    I think Peter visited Fort Lewis in Basic Training (back in 1981 it would have been). Whichever US base it was, he said they had more aircraft hanging around on an Army base than we had in the whole CAF!

    • Yes, Fort Lewis WA, is where I met Brigadier Rockingham, 25 Brigade commander, for the first time. He was seated behind his desk and all I could see was his red tabs and his binoculars.

      Did Peter do his officer training at Chilliwack? If so, they may well have taken his class down to Fort Lewis for US indoctrination.

  2. Yes Peter was at Chilliwack. He really enjoyed basic training – too bad the army screwed up after that. But that’s another story. Hindsight is always 20-20.


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