President of Korea thanks war vets
AN emotive thank you letter from the president of the Republic of Korea sent Ray ‘Curly’ Parker back through a minefield of memories this week.
It is not often a Warwick resident or a retired soldier receives a letter from a foreign head of state, but this was a special, if sombre occasion.
President Lee Myung-bak’s letter said it all: “This year we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. We honour your selfless sacrifice in fighting tyranny and aggression.
“We salute your courage in enduring unimaginable horrors of war. We pay tribute to your commitment in protecting liberty and freedom.”
It was a moving message to a quietly spoken local, who joined the army in the aftermath of World War II and spent 1952 and 1953 fighting in Korea.
Born on the corner of Pratten and Dragon streets, Mr Parker spent his childhood in the city and when he signed up he left a “young lady waiting” in his hometown.
He left for combat – after extensive training at Enoggera and Puckapunyal – as a private in the third battalion.
His unit’s mission was to protect the border of South Korea against Chinese and North Korean patrols.
It was a job carried out through the 35 degrees Celsius summer heat, when mosquitoes invaded camps with more frequency than the enemy, and into the winter when it dropped to -30.
“We froze; you couldn’t cover your ears because you needed to hear.”
But with trademark Australian stoicism Mr Parker got on with his job: “You did what you had to do.”
He had his share of terror. He recalled losing a boot in thick mud and having to stop to retrieve it. When he stood up his unit had disappeared and he was left in the open with his 38 calibre pistol and just six bullets. “I had been carrying the radio set so I wasn’t well armed.”
Yet he always believed he would make it home.
“I had a lovely lady waiting for me. I was in a hurry to get back.”
Within three weeks of his return in July 1953 he married his sweetheart, Doreen.
The couple has been together for 56 years, have seven children and 16 grandchildren but their life together started with its own set of post-war challenges.
On the third day of their honeymoon Mr Parker developed malaria and then there were his nightmares.
“Doreen complained about the language in my nightmares,” he joked.
Yet the humour offsets the trauma that comes with being a frontline soldier: There will always be incidents he doesn’t want to remember.
Last year Mr Parker returned to Korea as a “five-star, honoured” guest of the Korean government. This tour of duty, holding his wife’s hand firmly, he returned to within 3km of his border camp.
“The country had certainly changed.”
In Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s words: “We made a promise to build a strong and prosperous country that upholds peace and freedom, so the sacrifices you made were not in vain.
“Today we are proud of what we managed to accomplish and we wish to dedicate this achievement to you.
“Please accept our warmest gratitude and deepest respect. You will always be our true heroes.”