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Banff veteran awarded peace medal on 70th anniversary of Korean War armistice

James Santa Lucia still wonders what became of a young boy he met overseas while enlisted in the Korean War.

BANFF – James Santa Lucia still wonders what became of a young boy he met overseas while enlisted in the Korean War.

On the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, the 92-year-old veteran and Banff resident, who served from 1950-52 as a paratrooper with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI), was awarded the Ambassador for Peace medal for his part protecting the Repbulic of Korea (South Korea) from its North Korea invaders.

“I’m honoured to be here,” said Santa Lucia at a ceremony at the Banff Legion Sunday (July 9). “I’m glad for what I did or accomplished or didn’t accomplish in Korea. I’m thankful the country’s gotten back on its feet and is doing good things.”

A Banff resident of over 60 years, Santa Lucia was one of three veterans to receive the medal – a commemorative token of appreciation from the Korean government to service men and women who served in what was the third deadliest conflict in Canada’s military history.

The 2PPCLI embarked for Korea in November 1950 with the understanding they would be conducting occupational duties after a successful United Nations Command campaign in the Battle of Inchon, which would later lead to the recapture of the South Korean capital of Seoul.

En route, the Chinese Army intervened in the fighting, and the 2PPCLI, unprepared for all-out warfare, quickly joined the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade on the front lines.

In April 1951, with the country and its allies still holding the line against North Korea, Santa Lucia’s battalion held back heavy enemy offensives in the Battle of Kapyong, where 10 Canadian soldiers were killed and 23 were wounded in battle.

The 10 fallen soldiers at Kapyong were among 516 Canadians who died in service during the Korean War. More than 26,000 Canadians served on land, at sea and in the air.

Over three years of brutal fighting ended with the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice.

Santa Lucia and veteran David Marsh, who served in the war under the Royal Canadian Navy, were recognized for their service with peace medals presented by Lim Woongsoon, the Republic of Korea's ambassador to Canada.

Santa Lucia’s daughter, Catrina, said her father – like many veterans – doesn’t talk much about his time served. When he does, it’s to speak fondly of his fellow soldiers.

“He speaks very highly of them as a group,” she said. “There’s a lot of respect and pride for one another.

“We were very proud and I think my dad was very proud to receive this distinction.”

Honoured with the peace medal posthumously was William Ezra Robert Waddell, who served in the Korean War with the Canadian Armed Forces medical unit 3 Field Ambulance.

Woongsoon said the medal “embodies the deep gratitude of all Koreans, something that cannot be shared even with a lifetime of kind words.”

“There is no political agenda in this event,” he said at the ceremony. “We just have the shared memories about the Korean War and a strong sense of solidarity based on mutual affinity.”

Earlier this year Canada and the Republic of Korea also celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations, an alliance reinforced on the battlefield during the Korean War.

“We must take stock of what we have achieved in over the last 60 years in preparation for another 60 years and beyond,” said Woongsoon. “It is our shared memories and a strong sense of solidarity that will guide us for years to come.”

Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards, who was recently appointed as shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, said it’s important to honour the brave men and women who served not just on anniversaries and Remembrance Day, but every day.

“The men and women who serve and served this country in uniform are true heroes. They’re true heroes,” he said. “Every opportunity we get to recognize their service, to recognize the sacrifice of, in this case, 516 Canadians who laid down their lives to ensure that South Korea can be a free and prosperous and democratic country … we’ve got to take every opportunity we can to recognize those heroes.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

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