South Korea honours Petrolia vet with Ambassador of Peace medal

Petrolia Legion President Robert White presents Wally Cavan, 92, with the Ambassador of Peace medal from the South Korean government Tuesday.

Petrolia’s only surviving veteran of the Korean war has been honoured for his service.

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union occupied North Korea and the US the south. On June 25, 1950, the north’s Korean People’s Army crossed into the south beginning a civil war. The capital of the south- Seoul – fell in a week.

The United Nations called for an end to the civil war the day it started but the hostilities continued. By the spring of 1951, 8,500 Canadians troops were supporting the United Nations, alongside soldiers from Britian, Turkey and the Philippines.  

About 26,000 Canadians were in Korea from 1950 to 1953. Canada sent eight destroyers, with  Canadian aircraft provided transport, supply and logistics.

516 Canadians died – 312 in combat.

After the war, Canadian troops remained for three years as military observers.

John Wallace Cavan – known to most as Wally – was one of those Canadians who served.

Now 92, Cavan joined the Royal Canadian Navy when he was 17 and served in the Korean War when he was 19.

Cavan was an electrician’s mate on the destroyer HMCS Huron, where he looked after the engine room and the water room. These areas of the ship were the most difficult to look after, he said

Cavan served six and a half years in the navy, but on his first night on the ship, his naval service almost came to an abrupt end, he told The Independent.

His ship had left Halifax four or five hours before when a gust of wind caught his hat. Cavan recalls he reached over the railing to get his hat. His feet went over the railing but he was able to catch the rail so he didn’t end up taking a swim in the ocean that night.

His superior told him the navy had lots of hats and he didn’t have to go to so much effort to save his own.  

Tuesday, Cavan was awarded the Ambassador of Peace Medal by the government of South Korea for his service in the Korean War.

The honour of presenting him with this award went to Petrolia’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch President Robert White.

Cavan says “It was really surprising,” being recognized for his service in Korea over seventy years later.

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