South Korea

22 May 1951

By: Dr. Matthew Barrett

Matthew Barrett

Graphic Illustrator

Matthew Barrett is an illustrator and historian who specializes in the creation of graphic histories and comics that visualize fascinating stories of the past. He received a PhD in history from Queen’s University and was a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Canadian War Museum. He is the author of Scandalous Conduct: Canadian Officer Courts Martial, 1914–45, and is the co-author and illustrator of Through Their Eyes: A Graphic History of Hill 70 and the First World War.

In late spring 1951, as both sides dug into what would be become a prolonged stalemate, the United Nations forces and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army expanded their defensive minefields across the contested ground between North and South Korea.

Following recent UN advances, on the evening of 22 May, a small group of South Korean refugees tried to return to their homes in liberated territory and inadvertently stumbling into a minefield. A blast left the group of six men, women, and children badly injured and stranded on dangerous ground.

Private Masao Kawanami of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) immediately rushed to the scene, risking his life to cross the minefield. He was joined by Sergeant Frank Taylor also of the PPCLI who rendered first-aid. The pair helped to evacuate the refugees with six trips through the minefield and back. The injured South Koreans were then taken to a field dressing station. Two succumbed to the terrible wounds but four would be saved. Kawanami and Taylor were each recognized for their exceptional bravery with a “Mention in Dispatches.”

Born in British Columbia 1923 to Japanese parents, Kawanami had been interned with his family during the Second World War. When a policy change allowed Japanese-Canadians to serve in the military, he enlisted in the army in 1944 but his parents went back to Japan after the war. 

Kawanami retired from the armed forces in 1967 and later worked to redress the wrongs of internment. He died in 2005.