Tom St. Amand and Tom Slater
Patrick O’Connor was many things to many people.
A son, a brother and an uncle, as well as a husband and father. He was also a naval veteran of the Second World War.
Years later, his fellow soldiers in “D” company — who were mostly teenagers — knew him as “the old man.” He in turn called them “my boys.”
Private O’Connor, 27, was the first Sarnian lost to the Korean War when he died trying to save some of his boys 67 years ago next week, on May 30, 1951.
Five days earlier, the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, had begun an advance north of the 38th parallel in the Korean Peninsula. For O’Connor, it had been a hectic nine months: enlisting in London, basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington and more training in Pusan, South Korea.
He certainly knew the risks of war. His brother, Barry, had been killed with the RCAF eight years earlier.
He also knew pain. His wife Vera had lost twin sons at birth, Jon and Gerald, 17 months before.
Still, O’Connor answered the call of duty.
When he enlisted, he and Vera and their children, Terri, 3, and Michael, 2, were living on Oak Street. A trained stationary engineer, O’Connor was supporting his family by delivering goods for Wonder Bread.
According to Terri, who now lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., her father was planning to attend medical school after returning from Korea.
On May 29th, the RCR battalion halted near a burnt-out village at the foot of a formidable mountain barrier named Kakhui-Bong (Hill 467). The plan was to attack the hill and village of Chail-li beyond it.
O’Connor’s company was tasked with the main assault on the hill, and they set off on the morning of May 30th in misty skies and driving rain. It did not go well.
The enemy was determined to hold territory vital to the Chinese supply lines. Using an extensive trench system and machine guns strategically placed on the pinnacle, they held off the Canadians as they attempted to climb the rocky slopes.
By late morning, the Chinese counter-attacked with heavy small arms, machine guns, and artillery and mortar fire. “D” Company began to withdraw with the Chinese in pursuit. By 7 p.m. the last company had pulled clear of the hills.
O’Connor was the stretcher-bearer for “D” Company. When he saw some of his fellow soldiers wounded and pinned down by enemy fire, he made a fateful decision.
His last words were, “To hell with it, I’m going after my boys.”
Lt. Don Stickland wrote a letter to Mrs. O’Connor about her husband’s final moments:
“Half way up the mountain, my forward section came under intense fire which killed two and wounded four others. Pat and his partner came running up the hill to get the wounded but another burst of fire hit them both. He died as he had lived, trying to aid others with his wonderful unselfishness.”
Patrick O’Connor, one of six Canadians killed in the battle, was many things to many people, but he remains a hero to them all.
He is buried in the United Nations Cemetery in Busan, South Korea.
Soldier left prophetic poem
Patrick O’Connor wrote a poem one day before he was killed in battle. Fellow soldiers found it in his shirt pocket as they prepared his belongings to be sent to wife Vera in Sarnia.
There is blood on the hills of Korea
‘Tis blood of the brave and the true
Where the 25th brigade battled together
Under the banner of red, white and blue
As they marched over the fields of Korea
To the hills where the enemy lay
They remembered the Brigadier’s order
These hills must be taken to-day
Forward they marched into battle
With faces unsmiling and stern
They knew as they charged the hillside
There were some who would never return
Some thought of their wives and their mothers
Some thought of their sweethearts so fair
And some as they plodded and stumbled
Were reverently whispering a prayer
There is blood on the hills of Korea
It’s the gift of the freedom they love
May their names live in glory forever
And their souls rest in heaven above
May 29, 1951