Ron Kirk in Hamilton, Ontario, June 2012.Historica Canada
Ron Kirk's medals, from left to right: Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea, Special Service Medal (Peace), Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal Korea, Syngman Rhee MedalRon Kirk
"We were actually going out on patrol and we were in I guess it’s the Yellow Sea. Anyway, we’re on our way over. We ran into a typhoon. We didn’t get the whole thing but we got most of it. We went I guess two days going through this typhoon."
Basically my job was flashing light which was a 10 inch signal lamp or a 30 inch signal lamp. It was to send messages visually from one ship to the other or from the ship to a shore base or from the shore base back to the ship. That was usually done if you were in company with another ship. There was a lot of competition between – if you’re doing this with the British navy or you’re doing this with the American navy, because the British navy always thought they were – because they invented this thing; 450 years ago they were doing the same thing, not with light, but with flags. So I guess there was a lot of competition with the British navy and again with the American navy. We always tried to prove to them that we actually were the best and we actually were the best.
The only thing we did not do, we did not do bombardment. Everything else was practically the same. You had the same sense of urgency. Because we operated on the west coast we were always close proximity to the 38th parallel. You were always within – I’m not sure we were actually within range – but the North Koreans still had the same – nothing had changed for them. We were still under their guns. Our job basically was to make sure the islands were still secure, do that quite regularly. We always had a South Korean, I guess gun boat or minesweeper with us. They would – if we needed to investigate something, we’d usually pass the information to the South Korean gun boat. They would go and investigate. If they didn’t like what they had seen, they would take the gun boat back to the ship. We had a South Korean military person. I’m never sure whether he was actually army or navy but he would then make the determination whether these people were legitimate or not. And it’s pretty hard to make the decision. I don’t know how it was made because these people, they weren’t in uniform, usually they were just fishermen. In some cases they’d actually be North Korean fishermen who strayed out. That stuff was always done – I guess if it was serious enough, somebody else would make the decision, not necessarily at that level. It wouldn’t be made on the [HMCS] Iroquois, probably would not be made on the South Korean. Somebody would make the decision. So usually it was just people who were lost or refugees. Most of them were refugees trying to get out, North Koreans. Occasionally we see one of these big things pop up which was a mine and they would either attach the Korean gunboat to destroy it. We did a lot of PR work with the people there. We actually would move people from – if they were not sure they were going to be secure, they’d actually move them, take them out of there. They’d call the Korean boat in and they’d move them somewhere else.
Basically it was the same thing except shore bombardment. If we weren’t doing that we were usually attached to the US and we’d be doing manoeuvres with United States Navy, usually an aircraft carrier. We’d be playing guard or we’d be doing manoeuvres with them.
The islands, the part where we were, there was six or seven island that we would patrol regularly. The island that we were was Pengyang-do. They would send – occasionally they would send a party ashore for whatever reason. I think I went once as part of the job but my job was communications. What we did find when we got there, there was not really much there except a village. I was never ashore but to me they were all refugees. This island was just at the 38th parallel, so I’m assuming that everybody there was North Korean who were desperately trying to get out of North Korea. No, this had to be South Korea because there was a Christian mission there. We’d go ashore. We were amazed that all these kids were living in sort of like a bunker-type barracks. What we did is when we realized that there was something we could do, usually we’d do a collection, collect some money for them. I remember writing home and asking my mother to send me over baby clothes, without too much explanation. They would get the money, they would actually buy it and give it to the people who were running the mission. It was not much but we did whatever we could do because we were there.
We were actually going out on patrol and we were in I guess it’s the Yellow Sea. Anyway, we’re on our way over. We ran into a typhoon. We didn’t get the whole thing but we got most of it. We went I guess two days going through this typhoon. These ships, the Tribal class destroyers, they were built as gun platforms and I guess in a heavy sea they have a tendency to roll. You don’t want to get into a position where you’re – if you’re going to run with it, okay, that’s not what you want to do. You want to go into it so everything is coming over the forecastle and you’re able to take control of the ship. Anyway I’m not sure what happened. I think we tried to change course, whatever and we took a heavy – I guess we got it broadside when we were turning. Nothing happened except it’s pretty difficult when you’re going down and the ship is going over to port.
Fortunately for me when this thing happened that was my bridge watch. I spent I guess a day and a half up in the bridge. Even though it wasn’t my watch I didn’t go down below because I wasn’t going down below. I spent it there or on the flag deck and I’d sleep in the compartment between the two flag decks. I spent my life with my life jacket on. Was I terrified? Absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t know what good the life jacket would do because if you went into the water in that kind of sea, nothing is going to happen. However after we through it, I guess everything had calmed down. I guess it was early morning. I think I was working on the flag deck cleaning up and you could hear all the commotion going and the ship suddenly changed course and we take a look out and there’s a – I’m not sure whether he was North Korean or South Korean but whatever – there he was in the middle of the ocean on a wooden door. His fishing boat had gone down with the people that were on. I have no idea what it was. He was actually on this door, wooden door, floating, and I guess one of the lookouts picked him up. We went over and brought him on board. He was interviewed by the officer we had there, the Korean officer. I have no idea what happened to him whatever. What we did is we did make a collection and we gave him the money. We gave him some clothes. We gave him some food and I believe we either transferred him to one of the islands or one of the Korean gun boats.
Joining the navy
Probably the best decision I ever made. I never knew why until 57 years later I went back to Korea. I was absolutely amazed in 2010. It was unbelievable. The country – it’s a vibrant country. The infrastructure is like – wow, I couldn’t get over it. Everybody there was – their whole life is, especially to Canadians, is thank you.