Back in Korea in July 2003, Mr. Wardell (front row on the right) with other veterans from the Royal Canadian Regiment posing for the camera in Pusan.Ronald Wardell
Mr. Wardell (left) with another member of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Korea in July 2003, posing next to the headstone of a fallen comrade.Ronald Wardell
Mr. Wardell standing near the Demilitarized Zone shortly after the armistice was signed in July 1953.Ronald Wardell
Badges wore on Mr. Wardell service uniform: 1st Commonwealth Division (top row, left); 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade (top, right); Paratrooper wings.Ronald Wardell
Mr. Wardell's medals, from left to right: Sygman Ree Medal; Ambassador of Peace Medal; Korea Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea; Peacekeeping Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal for Korea.Ronald Wardell
"And all what I went through, you know, you have to look at it but God looked after me, he did miracles for me because he saved my life, he kept me healthy and that and I would do it again."
My name is Ronald E. Wardell. My regimental number is SD9965. I was born in Montreal [Quebec] on May the 31st, 1934. I wasn’t in the heavy combat because of my age, I was a young, I came near the end of the war [the Korean War]. And I didn’t get into a lot of action but I got into a lot of situations where it was boredom, part fear, second, and we had to … One of the things that I could never understand is they told us that when we wore our boots, we had to change our putties with a leather, you know, for the ankles. Because they said the reason, that’s what I was told, now I don’t know if it’s true but what I was told is that because if you get, a snake can’t bite through your leg because we had poisonous snakes there. But if we had a poisonous snake and I’m in the trench and I’m leaning on the top of the trench looking out and there were snakes all around us, I slept in a bunker and there was snakes all around and I don’t know why they gave us these things to wear, worrying about them biting our ankle when we were actually sleeping at the same level as the snakes.
Anyway, but there was, the smell was […] because we are in the trench, nobody ever asked me when I was at the, you know, on the 11th of November [for Remembrance Day] when we’re going to make presentations, where do you, where do you go to the bathroom. And I said: ‘Well, you pretty well find a little slit, you make a little slit trench and use that as your bathroom and you just cover it over with a shovel but the smell is always there. Of course, the smell was there in the rice patties and that and the day is boring, it’s scary and sometimes it’s terrifying.’
I’m going through this patrol, we’re going up to [Hill] 355 and down in the valley on the way to 355, there’s a Beaufort gun. Now, that’s a huge cannon [a British Artillery gun]. When that cannon goes off, it’s like you’re having an earthquake and you can use, if you’re too close, you can lose your hearing, you can go deaf. Anyway, I stopped there, we were taking rest because there was another patrol coming from 355 that was passing us and there we were going to replace them. And I hear this guy saying: ‘Ronnie’, because when I was young they always called me Ronnie, Major Ronnie, I said: ‘Boy, that sounds like me’, but I didn’t pay much attention. And the guys says: ‘Ronnie Wardell.’ I said: ‘Holy cow.’
Now this guy, he came from the same place I came, from Brossard [Quebec] and his brother, who was a paratrooper from the Second World War was the one that convinced me to be a paratrooper. So we talked and I says: ‘Well, are you going home now?’ He says: ‘Well I don’t know but we’re going back to Rear Divs’, Rear Division is further back of the line [the Rear Divisional Echelon of the frontline]. Like when I got to my problem with shell shock, I was going to A echelon and I went to B echelon and then I went to rear div. So that’s how it is when you get wounded or something happens to you, you go to A, B and then rear div.
Anyway, so that’s when we went up on Hill 355. Not 355 anymore, it’s 352. Because they blew up three feet of the mountain from all the bombs being fired at the hill. So that’s why we had, in the army, we always say when we were talking, we say, were you in 355? And we’ll say, yeah, it was more like it was 352.
After that, we went to like Gloucester Valley [a sector of the frontline near the Imjin River]. That was where I ran into trouble. The war just ended and we out putting up the DMZ [the Demilitarized Zone separating the belligerents at the 38th Parallel]. We had a tape and each battalion or each company, whatever, when it would come in front of your lines, you’d go down and put the tape across your area and then the next one would carry on and so forth. And so we had the King’s Own Rifle on our left and then we had the Marines [United States Marine Corps] and then on the right, we had, I think there was the Royal Australian Regiment. And so we each went down to put the tape. Well, when I went down there, all of a sudden I’m seeing that there’s guys are back in our position and they were all yelling, they were waving and everything and we were, what’s going on? So we couldn’t figure out what they were doing. So we came up to find out what was going on and they said, you’re in the middle of a minefield. So by the grace of God, nothing happened to us. So left that, that was a little exciting.
When you went on your patrols, we knew where our minefields were when we were but each one knew but you know, you’re, a lot of times, you’re changing positions and you know, the one will pull out and you’re relieving each other. And the, the senior officers, they know where the, and they relate to the other and show them that’s where the minefields are and things like that. So you’re always in forward. But when we did this, nobody said a thing, nobody even thought about it I guess. I don’t know.
Well, what happened is then we went over to Gloucester Valley and we were in the lines and we had our positions in the trenches and that and there was word came down that the Mongolians [Chinese soldiers] were going to make an attack, so they had us fixed bayonets but they didn’t give us any ammunition.
We went in and we went there before sundown in the evening and we knew during the day, what was going to happen. We went on the hill, we were in the trench. Now, we always had a KATCOM with us. Each western soldier, well, as far as I knew with us anyway, we always had a rock army soldier and we called them KATCOMs. A ROK Army of course means Republic of Korea but we always had one with us, wherever, any time we were to […] patrol, the OP [outpost], I was always like a UN [United Nations] soldier and a KATCOM. So it was always like that.
How do you say it? They didn’t seem to care too much, a lot of times you’d either wake up at night and find the guy would be sleeping beside me and he was supposed to be sitting there. When we were in the lines there, I’d sleep for an hour, he’d sleep for an hour, I’d sleep for an hour and we did, you know, we went back and forth and every time I’d wake up, he was asleep. So anyway, I was scared shitless, to be honest with you. And the next morning, after the, usually when the Chinese attack, they attack at this early dawn and they come in hoards with little brass bugles. Anyway, we were waiting for them to come and nothing happened. And it was just nothing happened, so they said okay, take off your bayonets or you know, and just forget about it. Well, I wasn’t feeling very good.
But when I went back to Korea in 2003 and I was sitting at the table at the banquet and we had a guest with us, each of us veterans, and the thing that he said, now, this is the God’s honest truth, this fellow asked us at the table, now I was an RCR [Royal Canadian Regiment veteran], was there Vandoos [a veteran from the Royal 22e Régiment], oh yeah, Major, what’s his name, he and I became very good friends actually because he was from Montreal and I was from Montreal, and we shared the same room. So, but I forget his surname.
Anyway, so he was the Vandoos, I was the RCR, there was a Princess Pats [a veteran from the Princesss Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] and other, I don’t know what regiment he was from and he asked us: ‘Would you do it again?’ And the first thing, without hesitation, was yes. I believed in my life, if there’s anything that I did that was right with my going to Korea and helping another country and just see that that country now is a great success. And I tell this to the children when I go to school, I said: ‘When I was young, I was naïve and I, with all these things that you think as a child of what’s going on but I said, to be able to go and be a part of this country and I said, no matter what, how small it is, whatever you want to do, is that, do not, do not give in, always try because you may succeed.
I said, there was 30,000 of us that went to Korea and I said: ‘I was only one person, I said, I was a private, I had no rank, I was the lowest you can get and I said, and all I had was a simple .303 [the British Lee-Enfield rifle No. 4 Mk I] but I was part of all of this what happened. And when I went back in 2003, I was proud to see that this country, that I had a part to make this country what it was today. So it was a very very, it was very very worthwhile in the long run. And all what I went through, you know, you have to look at it but God looked after me, he did miracles for me because he saved my life, he kept me healthy and that and I would do it again.