When Pvt. Ray Martin of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. #29 stood in front of the cenotaph on Remembrance Day last year and, despite failing health, proudly saluted the war dead on behalf of the Korean Veterans’ Association, the emotion on his face was enough to make me cry.
It was clear the passage of time hadn’t softened his anguish--and it was a casualty of war I hoped I’d never forget.
Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, that memory will be important because Martin won’t be there. He passed away in August at age 66 and was the last Korean vet in Fort Frances.
“He was a very proud soldier and never did forget the [Korean] war. He talked about it all the time,” said Lenora Martin, who will lay the KVA wreath on her husband’s behalf tomorrow.
“He had a tattoo on his arm and he told everybody what it meant--‘Death Before Dishonour.’ That was his motto and he stuck to it,” she added.
“Remembrance Day was very important to him and he would get really choked up at the ceremony. But he wanted people to know there were Korean vets as well as W.W. I and II vets,” she stressed.
Martin first enlisted with the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment Reserve (LSSRR) at age 16 but later joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) for the Korean conflict. He served over there from 1951 until his discharge in 1953.
Martin’s duties were no picnic. As a sniper, he was to know where enemy troops were at all times and report their locations.
The constant risk of death, rainy and cold weather, and unthinkable living conditions were among the evils that wouldn’t let up--and were unforgettable experiences that wandered in and out of Martin’s life the decades that followed the war, his widow said.
“He used to have terrible nightmares,” she noted. “He had lived for months and months in trenches without taking his boots off. He talked about rats and mice and how cold he got.
“The Korean War was the end of him as a normal human being,” admitted Roly Crawford, acting president of the local Legion, while saluting his friend’s bravery and courage. “Many Canadians were killed there but many others came home a wreck, as he did.
“I loved the man and my heart bled for him--for what he’d gone through,” Crawford added.
Martin also suffered a shrapnel hit to his chest and legs, and was flown back to Canada where he spent 14 months recovering from his injuries.
Lenora Martin still has her husband’s war rifle, compass, camera, uniform, and the blood-stained scarf he was wearing the day he was wounded.