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St. Anthony veteran Frank Slade recollects horrors of war

Frank Slade, 87, served in the Korean War from 1952 to 1953. Over his shoulder on the wall is a photo of himself at the age of 22. The picture was taken on a train on the way to Vancouver after Slade enlisted. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen
Frank Slade, 87, served in the Korean War from 1952 to 1953. Over his shoulder on the wall is a photo of himself at the age of 22. The picture was taken on a train on the way to Vancouver after Slade enlisted. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen

ST. ANTHONY, NL – Frank Slade vividly remembers the little Korean boy he found, screeching in terror.

It was 1952, in the middle of the Korean War where Slade was serving.

The four-year-old orphan child had been staying in a United Nations “compound,” surrounded by barbed wire. Slade was on guard duty.

The second day he was there, a shell exploded.

“I heard this explosion and I heard this little boy screaming,” he recalled.

When Slade rushed in, the boy was buried up to his waist in sand.

He had lost an eye.

The Canadian soldier sped into action and started digging the boy out with a shovel.

What he found when the boy was dug out accentuated the nightmare: his legs had been blown off beneath the knees.

Slade had to act quickly. He cut up his shirt, tying it tightly around the wounded area to prevent further bleeding.

He called up an American medical team, which picked up the child to take him away to the hospital.

The boy waved goodbye as he got on the ambulance.

Slade never saw him again.

Enlistment

St. Anthony’s Frank Slade enlisted in the Korean War in 1952 as a 22-year-old.

His path to that point was somewhat unusual.

After becoming an American citizen while he was working with his aunt in the United States, he was drafted to serve in the US military in Korea.

Holding dual citizenship, he had a choice to either serve or to head back home to Canada.

Slade opted to return to the Great White North, but it was there that fate intervened.

At the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, an old childhood friend from St. Anthony happily greeted Slade.

There sat Donald Penney, dressed in uniform.

As the two old friends conversed over some beers, Slade learned Penney had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment and had already served three months in the Korean War.

Now, Penney was trying to convince him to sign up too.

Nevertheless, Slade left the tavern that night still unconvinced. But he slept on it and the next morning, thought it over some more.

Changing his mind, he decided he would stand with his old friend on the battlefields of Korea.

When Slade arrived in that foreign land, fate intervened once more, He and Penney were placed in the same company – but their time serving together would end tragically.

On July 20, 1953, Penney lost his life and Slade barely escaped with his.

July 20

 

Frank Slade holds the sturdy shaving can that saved his life. On July 20, 1953, an 81-mm rocket struck Slade and two other members of his company, killing his friend, Donald Penney. Slade was shaving at the time – this can blocked a piece of metal shell that would have killed him. The dent where the shell struck the can is still visible. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen
Frank Slade holds the sturdy shaving can that saved his life. On July 20, 1953, an 81-mm rocket struck Slade and two other members of his company, killing his friend, Donald Penney. Slade was shaving at the time – this can blocked a piece of metal shell that would have killed him. The dent where the shell struck the can is still visible. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen

 

There were three of them together, including the two young St. Anthony friends, in a trench about five feet deep.

Slade was shaving out of a lunch can held in his hand when suddenly, there was an explosion.

An 81-mm rocket from the enemy struck them.

A piece of metal shell flew towards Slade, striking the can in his hand. He was pushed up against the trench by sheer force, injuring his cervical spine in the process.

But he made it out of there alive.

The doctor told him it was the sturdy lunch can that saved his life. He still has that can to this very day.

The other man, Reid, was wounded at the hip.

Sadly, Penney wasn’t as fortunate. The explosion killed him instantly. He was the last Canadian to be killed in action in Korea.

The war ended just seven days later.

Today

Slade served in the Korean War for 14 months, from 1952 to 1953. He has received many medals and certificates for his service.

A wall in his home is covered with these honours, as well as old photographs of himself and other soldiers.

Directly beside a photo of himself, at the age of 22, is a photo of Donald Penney.

Every year on Remembrance Day, Slade, now 87, lays a wreath at the old memorial outside the United Church in St. Anthony to honour all those who have fallen.

But he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to get out for Remembrance Day later this week because of health issues.

In recent years, he has started to regret the decision to enlist. The horrific things he saw and experienced have given him PTSD.

“If I had known, I’d have to go through that, I would have never went to Korea,” he told the Northern Pen.

One incident impressed upon him was the little Korean boy with his legs blown off.

But at least now Slade finally knows what happened to him.

Two years ago, he received a medal from the president of South Korea. In the process, he also learned – through information accumulated by the Canadian ambassador to South Korea – that the boy survived the incident and grew up with two artificial legs.

He had a good job and had married but with no children.

Unfortunately, he recently passed away in 2012, at the age of 64.

Slade never got to contact him again, nor did the boy learn about the St. Anthony soldier who saved his life.

But all those years in between, Slade never forgot that little Korean boy and remembered their brief moment together in his poem, “A tear in my eyes.” 

 

“A tear in my eyes”

 

Forty-one years ago in July

A terrible thing happened in Korea

Where I was stationed in the army

That brought tears to my eyes.

 

I was patrolling a compound

When I heard a loud noise

A shell had exploded

Wounding a little Korean boy.

 

I ran to help him

He had lost 2 legs and one eye

he was bleeding so badly

I thought he would die.

 

I picked him up gently

He was bleeding a lot

I turned away my head

And wiped a tear drop.

 

I spoke to him in English

But he didn’t understand

I couldn’t speak his language

In that foreign land.

 

While I stood there waiting

For the ambulance to appear

I put up my hand

And wiped away another tear

 

The medical team came

To take him away

I’ll always remember

That terrible day.

 

When he got to the ambulance

He waved me good bye

I looked at him once more

And wiped a tear from my eye.

 

I tried to find out if he lived or died

No one could tell me

I had a tear in my eyes.

 

In that dirty old compound

There were children, women and men

I could tell they were unhappy

And wanted the war to end.

 

Around that compound

There were rats and mice

Living in there

It wasn’t very nice.

 

Cruel Men that cause wars

And little children to die

Doesn’t know how it feels

To have tears in their eyes.

 

When I’m all alone

And time passes by

I still remember

That little Korean boy

 

By Frank Slade

Korean Veteran

 

 

Memories of hands-on combat

A crack in an old wooden rifle.

Behind it, a story of hands-on combat between two men.

 

The rifle Frank Slade took from the enemy soldier he captured in the Korean War. Pictured here is the crack that opened in the rifle when the Korean attacked Slade. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen
The rifle Frank Slade took from the enemy soldier he captured in the Korean War. Pictured here is the crack that opened in the rifle when the Korean attacked Slade. Stephen Roberts/The Northern Pen

 

“We were hid away in the woods,” Frank Slade told the Northern Pen. “They (the enemy) were there talking, so we fired bullets overhead and thought they would take the rifles down, but they didn’t.

“We shot two bullets and then we shot two more bullets each, and they didn’t take them down.

“And I said ‘they must be running out of bullets’ because we heard the shots before that, so we knew there was something going on.

“I said, ‘I’m going out and you keep me covered.’

“When I went to capture buddy, that’s when he made a smack at me with his rifle to hit me in the head.

“I put up my rifle and that’s when he cracked his open, when he hit my rifle. And that’s when I knocked him down on the ground and tied him up.”

After capturing the Korean, Slade took the soldier’s rifle.

He still has it on his wall in his home.

 

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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