The Royal 22e Régiment laid to rest one of its own May 13. Soldiers of the regiment watched with heavy hearts, having established strong ties with the departed in just a short time. It was, ultimately, by his only true family, the Van Doos, that Lance Corporal Paul Dugal was accompanied to his final resting place.
For many years, Paul Dugal had refused to talk about his military past. Taken prisoner of war in Korea in the 1950s, he was presumed dead until the end of the war, when the Chinese released their POWs. According to those who knew him at the end of his life, such as Captain Ghislain Laverdière, the driving force behind Mr. Dugal’s reunion with R22 eR, Mr. Dugal had long carried with him a sense of having been abandoned by his regiment. Fortunately, he was able to make peace with his military past, and R22e R, in turn, honoured the former prisoner of war.
Some of our older readers may recall the story of Paul Dugal. It was widely covered at the time. The R22e R has ensured that his story will be remembered by the generations of Van Doos who came after him. Responding to an invitation from Capt Laverdière, Mr. Dugal agreed to participate in the regiment’s indoctrination process, and it is in this way that many new members of the regiment became acquainted with him.
A soldier at heart
Born near the city of Québec in 1931, Paul Dugal began wearing a uniform at an early age. He joined the cadets at 10 or 11—he no longer recalled the exact year—and wore the uniform until he enrolled in the R22e R. Before he reached 20, Mr. Dugal had completed his basic training (as it was called even in the French-speaking R22e R at the time) and packed his bags for Wainwright, Alta., for advanced training – his first trip outside Quebec. Strangely enough, in the next few years, Mr. Dugal would travel literally around the world.
By the beginning of the 1950s, when Mr. Dugal completed his training to become a soldier, the Canadian Army’s operations in Korea were well underway. In 1952, when volunteers were sought to augment 2nd Battalion, R22e R, which had been called to fight in Korea, Private Dugal was one of the first to report to the recruiting office. To his great relief, he was accepted, and that was followed by a long process involving many moves and training: Edmonton, Vancouver, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Tokyo and, finally, Korea – a lot of travel for a young man who had left the province of his birth for the first time only a few months before!
Prisoner of war
The singular history of Mr. Dugal really begins in Korea in 1952, when the young soldier was one of the troops sent to reinforce 2 R22e R.
During his indoctrination address, Mr. Dugal recounted his first contact with the reality of war. “After spending several days in reserve,” he said, “we were taken to the front, which was held by the 2nd Battalion, to replace those who had been killed during the famous battle of Hill 355. My comrades and I were assigned to D Company, commanded by Major Lee Boiron. I was assigned a trench – located right next to the munitions dump!”
Lance Corporal Dugal would learn the hard life of the deployed soldier “on the job”, taking part in “recce patrols”, “standing patrols” and “fighting patrols”, as he called them, reminding the young members listening to him that at the time, even in the Francophone R22e R, military life was conducted in English.
Deployments during the Korean War lasted one year. Because LCpl Dugal arrived toward the end of the rotation of the 2 R22e R, he was in place when the 1 R22e R arrived in April 1952.
Looking back on his trench experience of the Korean campaign, Mr. Dugal liked to tell an anecdote that illustrates the nervousness inherent in trench warfare. “One evening, as I was making my rounds to check that the guards were at their posts,” he said, “a soldier stopped me to tell me that he had heard a noise and seen lights, and because of that he had decided to throw some grenades, but they hadn’t exploded. I looked in the box and saw that the poor fellow had forgotten to put the detonators in the grenades. As for the noise, it was caused by field mice that were nosing about in some cans that we had placed on the ground to alert us to the presence of the enemy. And the sparks of light turned out to be nothing but fireflies!”
June 23, 1952, was the day that would change Mr. Dugal’s life forever. On that day, with the Canadians 800 metres from enemy positions, LCpl Dugal was part of a patrol that was to evaluate enemy presence in preparation for a raid aimed at capturing a soldier from the enemy camp.
“We left our positions and the scouts guided us across the valley,” Mr. Dugal said. “We crossed a river and, once we reached the foot of the mountain, the scouts stopped. I undertook to climb up to the enemy positions. At first, I encountered no resistance. I was carrying a US rifle, two magazines of 28 rounds each and several grenades. When I was about 15 feet [4.5 m] from the enemy trenches, the enemy opened fire and I was hit in the right thigh. I fired back with my semi-automatic; I remember emptying a 28-round magazine at the first trench I saw. Shortly after that, I felt a sharp pain in the head. For a moment I was aware of everything around me – the enemy fire; my return shots. Then – nothing. When I woke up, I was a prisoner.”
As is customary, Mr. Dugal’s next of kin received official notification from the Department of National Defence. The first letter, dated February 17, 1953, and sent to his mother, Mrs. Yvonne Dugal, announced the presumed death of LCpl Dugal. His family was, of course, devastated. But not long afterward, April 21 of the same year, Mrs. Dugal received a second official missive telling her that her son had, in fact, been a prisoner of war and that he had recently been freed. The Canadian soldier had been held prisoner for 10 months.
The enemy trench was held by Chinese soldiers. It was they who gathered up the Canadian. Seriously wounded, LCpl Dugal did not receive the care that his condition required; nevertheless, the Chinese kept him alive, for which he was grateful.
“I passed out from time to time, which was to be expected since my jailers had nothing with which to treat me,” he said. “They could not remove the piece of shrapnel lodged in my skull, which left me partially paralyzed on the left side, a condition from which I suffered the rest of my life. Still, they treated me as best they could under the circumstances.”
From time to time the enemy positions were bombed by US aircraft, which made LCpl Dugal wonder about his chances of getting out of captivity alive. “Surely they didn’t know that there were UN prisoners there,” he recalls thinking. Moved from one camp to another, the prisoners had to survive the rigours of a North Korean winter—not unlike a Canadian winter—with nothing but rags for blankets and clothing.
During his captivity, LCpl Dugal met a Canadian Army captain, whom he recognized by his shirt. Furtively, because they had been ordered to remain absolutely silent, he learned the identity of the captain, whose name was Joseph Liston, a cousin of the general of the same name! Using cigarette paper and cardboard from the handbook of Communism that they were required to read, LCpl Dugal was able to record the names, nationalities and ranks of some of his fellow prisoners. After the release of the prisoners in 1953, this record enabled the authorities to locate 16 other Canadians who had been presumed dead, as well as a number of US, French and British soldiers. LCpl Dugal was awarded the British Empire Medal, which he wore alongside the Canadian Korea Medal, the Volunteer Service Medal and the UN Service Medal for Korea.
Capt Laverdiére regrets that Mr. Dugal was cut off from his military family for so long, although he understands that the former prisoner had difficulty accepting that he had been left behind, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, in an intense combat situation. It was one of Mr. Dugal’s former comrades-in-arms, whose name he did not wish to disclose, who took the first steps toward reconciliation. The man, a native of Western Canada in his early eighties, tracked down his compatriot from Quebec and went to see him, to apologize for not having been able to repatriate him on that dark day of June 1952. It was a gallant gesture. When Capt Laverdière, in turn, visited Mr. Dugal to propose that he tell his story to his military family, the old man initially hesitated. Happily for the military community, Mr. Dugal eventually accepted the invitation.
At the funeral service for Mr. Dugal, Capt Laverdière paid tribute to his fellow soldier. Sadly, too few people know how much the deceased gave to his country.
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