Local Korean War veteran looks back
Jack Kanngiesser pictured in legion uniform. (Photo supplied)
When remembering the Korean War, the image of the dead is what first comes to mind for Jack Kanngiesser.
As U.N. forces pushed the invading North Korean and Chinese back across the 38th parallel, the Chinese didn’t have time to properly bury their dead.
They tried, but arms and legs were left sticking out of the ground.
Then, there was a small rural village troops came across that he - a medic attached to the infantry - was asked to check out.
“I said to my buddy, there’s no one here. I looked in one hut and there was a bunch of people dead,” he said. “It was the same throughout the village. There was one man alive. He was laying down and I told him as best I could in broken Korean and English I’d get a doctor and come back...but he was so near death a fly walked across his eye and he didn’t even blink.”
There were 67 dead in the village - not from the war itself, but typhoid.
Those images alone were enough that after 18 months in Korea, and two and a half years in the military, he left life as a soldier behind, and went back to a job he’d been eager to get away from when he originally enlisted at 20 years of age.
“I had just started a job I didn’t care for. I was just too young to get in the Second World War, so when the Korean war broke out I was just the right age and joined up,” Kanngiesser said.
They left Seattle in November of 1950. When they arrived 12 days later, the North Koreans and Chinese had pushed the Americans towards the very end of the peninsula.
The smell of war and open sewage - Korea then a third world country - hit him first while they were still half a day away at sea.
Then when he came down the gang plank, he saw numerous starving children with their hands out.
“There were a lot of sad faces...We were given brown bag lunches. I took my paper bag and I threw it and watched some little kid catch it. That made me happy,” he said.
“The people who haven’t seen the war, do not realize how much damage one bomb can do and the suffering that goes on. It’s not only the soldier - it’s the babies, the younger generation, the women that suffer the most.”
The Korean War was Canada’s bloodiest conflict after the First and Second World Wars. A total of 516 Canadians were killed, and more than 1,200 were wounded.
Even though an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war today.
His time in Korea came with a change in perspective; perhaps his job as a partsman in a garage wasn’t so bad after all.
“Those poor people over there had been shelled and bombed - the city of Seoul, there was nothing left of it at all. I remember a few chimneys standing but everything was flattened,” he said.
“People don’t realize how lucky we are living in Canada with the peace we have around us, and not living with the threat of war over our heads.”
Now 87 years old and a life member of the Lacombe Legion with 65 years of service, that is what he hopes people learn to appreciate, especially on Remembrance Day.
Remembrance for him, however, always comes back to the dead.
“I often think of my buddies that were still over in Korea that got killed there,” he said. “It was a brutal, nasty war.”
Locally, one of those who did not return was James Calkins.
He also hopes one day the conflict between North Korea and South Korea will finally end, as well as tensions between North Korea and other countries in the world.
“I think Trump could annihilate North Korea if something began,” he said. “ I just hope he doesn’t start it first.”