This narrative was uplifting and expressed hope in humanity. The truth is stories can save us, because, in a story, the spirits of the dead can never die.Lisez l’histoire de Reina Shewakramani
Métis Nation of Alberta
At it’s very heart, “Remembering the Brave” is less a meditation on the Korean War and more an account of four Aboriginal Veterans’ journey towards peace and reconciliation. As a Mètis undergraduate scholar, I have found that most historical fiction about Aboriginal people revolves around the time of Pre-Contact or casts us in the darkness of residential schools. In this short story; however, I seek to present Aboriginals as active participants in the world who are grappling with the human condition. In the end, our characters reach the same conclusion as we have: to be human is to be vulnerable to death and loss. Please note, I have crafted this written piece as a fictional account based on readings that I have done and should therefore be considered for its artistic value rather than its ability to capture history accurately.
I had hundreds of years of Indigenous heritage by my side but I still froze at the thought of creating a short story about the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta. The focus of my piece was the reality of war as a source of trauma that devastates a human being much like how the Residential Schools have devastated Canadian Indigenous culture. By immersing myself in the rich language of biographical accounts of Indigenous soldiers, I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of a community that, to this day are searching for peace.
Part One: Return to Korea
The smell of gunpowder filled the air, and fire filled the night sky. Adrenaline was pumping through Henry Beaudry’s veins; he could feel his heart ripping out of his chest. The twenty-third infantry was ambushed on the beaches of Incheon. Enemy soldiers were everywhere, and the Canadians were surrounded. Engulfed in flames, the Allies’ flag was falling just as its soldiers were. Beaudry fired his gun once, twice, a hundred times; it did not help. The enemy soldiers were coming straight at them. They had a choice: run and hide or stay and fight. His buddies, Patrick Cole and Abe Selman, formed a human barrier and kept shooting. Neither of them wanted to see their flag beaten to the ground. A shot from the other side hit Cole in the chest, and any one of them could be next. Then it happens; a bullet struck Beaudry’s helmet, and he fell to the ground unconscious.
Forty years later, Commander Beaudry returns to Korea, not alone. At dawn, four members of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta set foot on the beaches of Incheon. They take a minute to remember Abe Selman, Patrick Cole and all the other ghost soldiers who made their last stand on this beach. Beaudry, Donald Cardinal, Oliver Martin, and Peter Chatelaine were never religious men, but they say a prayer for the fallen and tread as if they are walking on holy ground. The tide is rising and the blood of war is finally been washed away.
Part Two: Brothers in Arms
Whether it is the frontlines of the Korean War, or in their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta continued to serve their country above and beyond the call of duty. In 1983, Henry Beaudry helped found this organization to unite local Aboriginal veterans. Years later, Commander Beaudry along with his fellow comrades, Cardinal, Martin, and Chatelaine, met in Henry’s private cabin for a smudging ceremony in an effort to keep the memories of the Forgotten War alive.
Beaudry, Cardinal, Martin, and Chatelaine have a moment of silence to remember what they stood for in Beaudry’s cabin. They ran their fingers carefully across their respective Korean War Military medals: the face of Queen Elizabeth II looked back at them with the red band of cloth that bound them to their sacred honor and each other. Some of their military medals encompassed the highest recognition an Aboriginal soldier could receive at the time, and was the essence of this organization because it was a tribute to all the great men who have fallen for Canada in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta felt they were a part of history, and a long tradition that would stand for many generations to come. The world would long forget them, but they would never forget what they sacrificed in Korea.
The Korean War Medal was a source of identity for each member since being a military medal recipient defined their very morals and values of citizenship. Commander Beaudry and the others had all escaped the jaws of death, counting their very last breath, and having no hope for survival; and yet they stood as brothers in arms, knowing that the world would never know peace.
Part Three: True War Stories
In a true war story, the line between good and evil is a thousand shades of gray. A true war story does not inspire courage in mankind, it simply reveals humanity in its most fragile state. These are true war stories.
The smoke of the four sacred medicines (tobacco, sweet grass, sage, and cedar) filled the cabin as the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta gathered around for a smudging ceremony, and to hear a story that had been told a thousand times before. Commander Beaudry began describing the scene “It was spring of 1952, and the cherry trees were blossoming in South Korea...”
Beaudry had gotten into a heated argument with his close friend, Ralph Taylor. The squad had agreed to team up, and if one of the soldiers needed reinforcement, the others would have rush to his aid. Beaudry’s partner was Richard Chamberlain and during one particularly bloody battle Chamberlain called for help. Beaudry was in the clear and heading back to safety, but when he heard the fear in Richard’s voice, he froze. Taylor, immediately sensed Beaudry’s hesitation, and rushed back to provide Chamberlain with back-up. Back at the barracks, Taylor called Henry a coward, among other things. Richard, who was counting his blessings, said he was lucky to be alive and urged Ralph Taylor to let it go. Taylor, however, was fuming; he believed next time it could be his life on the line. Finally, Beaudry just snapped, looked Taylor straight in the eye and sucker punched him. They did not speak for days after that.
A week later, while Taylor was on night patrol, he was ambushed by a Communist soldier and killed. When news reached the platoon that Taylor was missing, Beaudry feared the worst. That night, after a few soldiers had discovered his body, Taylor’s closest friends were allowed to say goodbye to a closed body bag. Henry recited a prayer from the Bible, and saluted his fallen comrade by expressing hope that the next time they meet it would be on better terms. Beaudry felt his anger melting and a deep sense of grief setting in. From that day on, Henry Beaudry carried the lives of the dead on his back, hoping one day to deliver them home. Beaudry’s voice echoed in the room; there was a deep silence followed closely by inner reflection. Each of the members’ thoughts returned to the battlegrounds of Korea, knowing in their hearts they left their innocence in that foreign land.
Then it was Chatelaine’s turn to lead the ritual, and he spoke of the first time he took a life. The Korean soldier’s jaw was in his throat, his upper lip was blue, and there was a star-shaped hole in his forehead, where the bullet hit. His chest was sunk in, he was poorly muscled, and he looked as if he had not eaten in days. He wore black flood pants with many holes in them, and a shabby ammunition belt. He was not a Communist; he was a citizen and a person. This was the first man Peter Chatelaine killed in combat and even forty years later, Peter could never forget the look on his face: pure terror. Monsoon season was in full storm, and the rain had dug a shallow grave for Chatelaine’s enemy. Peter spent close to ten minutes just staring him straight in the eyes. He just could not let go, even after his friends had threatened to leave him. He was holding on to this dead body in the hopes of holding on to his innocence. Two men from his platoon grabbed Chatelaine and carried him away from the corpse. Hours later, he returned to his senses and recalled what had happened. Peter had been marching across the rainy river when he spotted a North Korean by himself and that was it—he shot. Only later did he realize he had taken a life. A man who probably had a family waiting for him to return just like Chatelaine did. His commanding officer took him aside and warned him that the only way he would survive is to remember the enemy is not human. As inhuman as it sounds, killing did get easier, but at night Peter would see the souls of the men he killed across the shore of the rainy river calling him. It was then that he understood, in war there are no heroes. Again, The Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta paused briefly, to captivate the moment. There was no trace of judgment in the room but rather a sincere sense of sympathy.
Martin commanded the floor next when he described his last days in Korea. He was taking a walk in the country side; breathing the crisp air and watching the children fly their kites. The sun was setting over the horizon, when he noticed a young girl, about five years old, from the corner of his eye. She was pleading for a young boy to help her fly her kite. The boy, however, took off the first chance he got and left the little girl crying. Martin had always been trained to distrust villagers, but without thinking he rushed over to the little girl and offered to help. He held her vibrant red and orange kite through his fingers and threw it towards the sky. The kite slowly descended as the little girl stood mesmerized. Night was approaching and Martin quickly said goodbye to his new friend. As he walked back to the barracks, he wondered if that little girl had lost her father in the war, and for a moment, Martin saw no enemies, no sides to be taken, but rather people banded by war. This narrative was uplifting and expressed hope in humanity.
The truth is stories can save us, because, in a story, the spirits of the dead can never die. Cardinal then spoke of the day he was rescued from the Dragon’s Teeth, a thin line of territory between the Allies and Communist combat ground. Few survived the Dragon’s Teeth simply because if they found you, they did not kill you, they destroyed you. Cardinal was wounded and lying in the heart of the Dragon’s Teeth; he had no hope for survival. All of a sudden, a medic darted out of nowhere and did something extremely brave: he carried Donald onto his back, rushing out of the dangerous territory. After about two minutes of pure terror, Donald arrived safely onto a nearby stretcher. Cardinal was then transported to a hospital in Nagoya and underwent emergency surgery. When he regained consciousness, Donald insisted on shaking the hand of the man who saved his life, but all the nurse could find out was that the medic had not returned back to base. Cardinal anxiously awaited the medic’s return, but as the hours turned into days, Donald knew he never would. He understood that that “bold son of a gun” had returned to carry more of the wounded to safety. Somewhere along the lines, however, the medic must have realized he was not immortal, that he could not escape the jaws of death time and time again. Yet, he continued, knowing the price he would pay for saving the soldiers’ lives would be his own. Cardinal never knew the name of the man who saved his life, but whenever he thought of that medic, the words “true soldier” rang loud and clear. The members of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta took one last breath of silence and concluded this ritual meant to inspire healing. They find strength in understanding.
War often brings out the worst and the best in men. It is because of that medic that Cardinal had dedicated his life to the service of others. Each of the members of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta may have had a different defining experience, but Martin, Chatelaine, Beaudry, and Cardinal all agree it is their love for their country which drove their mission to care for all Aboriginal Veterans, their widows, and orphan children. The members of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta devoted approximately four hours a week to delivering hot meals to local veterans in poverty. Aside from nourishment, they also delivered companionship, in an effort to see to it that no soldier goes unloved. In their spare time, this organization fundraised to collect funds and donations for providing veterans with much needed groceries and shelter. To raise awareness, Cardinal, Beaudry, Martin, and Chatelaine also dedicated their time to promoting public understanding of Aboriginal Veterans by delivering speeches and participating in media events.
Part Five: Remembering the Brave
The members of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta breathe in the crisp air at the beaches of Incheon. They arrive at dawn, and bury their wrinkled feet in the sand. There is no one else and for a moment they believe the world has gone still. There is no fear, no hesitation as they dive into the cold, crisp, water, and begin swimming out to the farthest point in the beach. They stroke, come up for air, and dive back, again and again. Suddenly, Beaudry, Martin, Chatelaine and Cardinal feel the ghost soldiers’ spirits and stop. They look across the rainy river, only this time, their friends and enemies welcome them. They take a deep breath and begin their journey towards them, together. It is with this courage and conviction that the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta strives to heal the wounds of war.