Ron Miller knows stress.
Stress, the Korean War veteran says, is crawling through a minefield in the dark, worrying that the slightest slip up could trigger an explosion that would maim, or kill, you and your companions.
“Every day I came out of a minefield I called myself lucky.”
The Windsor native joined the Canadian Army in 1950.
“There was nothing else to do I guess at that time. A feller kind of coaxed me to go.”
He was originally posted to Petawawa, Ont. in his early 20s, but eventually made his way to Wainwright, Alta. to learn how to detect explosives hidden in a war zone.
“A feller used to booby trap a house and we used to have to try to get into it without getting our fingers blown off.”
Miller says there was no room for error while training inWainwright.
He recalls one instructor joking that no engineer would dare fall asleep in his class, or he may end up losing his arms during the hands-on training drills involving live explosives.
“You don’t pick anything up or touch anything that might be booby trapped.”
Miller says the drills were intense, but his colleagues in Wainwright made it through the training simulations unscathed because “they all stayed awake in the class.”
After training, Miller was stationed near Seoul, Korea on a 12-month term creating pathways for infantry soldiers as a sapper.
“You clear the mines for them and then they go fight the enemy, and you would get the hell out of there,” Miller explained.
“I joined the engineers; I didn’t join the infantry. I wish I had — it’s too hard on the nerves in the minefield, especially at night.”
The sappers worked in groups of three, reporting for duty whenever the infantry soldiers requested their assistance.
“Every time I went in the minefield I worried I’d blow myself and my buddies up.”
Miller says he didn’t stick around for any close quarters battles; that wasn’t what he was there for.
“We’d take off… our job was getting them through the field.”
But that doesn’t mean he never came face to face with the enemy.
A call for a welder came out one day when a group of Americans and Canadians were gathered in a large hut, waiting to go home.
Miller, a trained welder, says he mistakenly opened his “big mouth” and volunteered for the job.
“They gave me a three-quarter ton truck and a welder and a Newfoundlander and they gave us a map reference and we went up to a place called The Hook.”
Miller was tasked with repairing the blade of a bulldozer positioned halfway up a hill, in close proximity to two tanks.
He remembers being prompted to scout out his surroundings when an English officer anxiously asked how long it would take to finish the job.
“I looked across on the next hill and I could see faces over there and there was about 50 people over there.”
Miller says he asked who the people were, but the officer insisted he ignore what he saw and continue welding.
“After I got through he came down, I said, ‘By the way who were those people over there on the next hill?’ He said, ‘You’ll find out if you don’t soon get the hell out of here.’”
Then, it clicked.
“The bulldozer was digging a hole for the two tanks to get in and get their guns down lower so they could shoot at those fellas.
“Next thing you know, mortars were coming in and I took off, and the guy with me took off, and I passed him down the hill but the three-inch mortars were coming in,” he said.
“The only thing that hit me was a bunch of mud.”
Miller says he was shipped to Seattle about three days later, near the tail end of the war, and the simple luxury he most craved upon his return to North America was civilian clothes.
The Korean War, a civil war fuelled by the differing political ideologies of North and South Korea, claimed millions of lives from June 1950 to July 1953. Troops from the United Nations were sent in to help South Korea defend against the invading North Korea.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada’s website, more than 516 Canadians died in the Korean War.
Miller, who served in the military for a total of six years then went on to work as a welder while he raised a family, eventually received a Korea Medal, United Nations Service Medal and Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.
He says he still thinks about Korea but only from time to time.
“It stays with you for quite awhile and you never forget it but it… slowly wears off.”
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 9 member says he wonders what it would be like to visit Seoul once more but, at 84, he is, without a doubt, right where he wants to be.
“Canada, I would say, is the best country in the world to live in.”