‘When I went to lift him, there was only half of him there’: Veteran Sam Jamieson remembers Korean War nightmare

During his second war, Ordinary Seaman Sanford (Sam) Jamieson was on board HMCS Iroquois when it came under enemy bombardment during an operation on the east coast of North Korea.

Jamieson, a veteran of the Second World War, had re-enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy soon after the Korean War erupted in June 1950.

“I figured it was the best place for me,” says Jamieson, now 93 and a resident at Ottawa’s Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre.

Sam Jamieson as a young man in the navy.

Jamieson’s ship, HMCS Iroquois, arrived in Korean waters in June 1952 to join other United Nations ships engaged in the disruption of enemy communications and supply lines. A key target was the main north-south railroad in North Korea known as the Pyongra Line railway, which skirted the coast in places.

On the afternoon of Oct. 2, 1952, HMCS Iroquois shelled a section of railway near the town of Songjin, notorious among UN forces for its deadly hillside shore batteries. A dozen U.S. ships had been damaged there during the previous two years.

Newspaper article about Iroquois tragedy in 1952. Sanford (Sam) Jamieson, 93, joined the navy at 19 years old during WWII and re-enlisted during the Korean War. He recalls the tragedy on HMCS Iroquois in 1952, when it was hit by a mortar from Korea, killing three and injuring ten. One of his mates saved his life, he says. He retired after 34 years of service and now lives at the Perley Rideau Retirement home in Ottawa.

After an hour-long bombardment, Iroquois stopped its firing and turned to leave the harbour. That’s when Songjin’s hidden shore batteries opened up.

Jamieson, part of the team that operated the destroyer’s four-inch forward gun, prepared to return fire as shells sent plumes of water into the air on either side of the ship.

Jamieson’s job was to communicate instructions between the captain and the crew of “B” gun; he was talking to the bridge, he says, when “everything just went black.”

A shell landed on the starboard side of the ship, just below the bridge. The explosion sent Jamieson crashing against the gun.

“Next thing I know,” he says, “I’m picking myself up. That’s when I saw him holding onto the side of the hole where the shell had hit. He was yelling, ‘Sam, Sam! Help me! Help me!’”

Able Seaman Wally Burden had been only an arm’s length away from him, Jamieson says, when the shell hit.

HMCS Iroquois.

He limped over to pull his friend out of the smoking ruins. Burden was grievously wounded. “When I went to lift him, there was only half of him there,” says Jamieson.

Burden would die in the ship’s infirmary hours later — one of three fatalities that day. Another 10 men were wounded, including Jamieson.

It was the worst day of the Korean War for the Canadian navy.

“We were all sitting, having coffee that morning, laughing, having a good time,” remembers Jamieson. “Later that day, three of them are dead.”

A photo taken during the shelling of HMCS Iroquois on Oct. 2, 1952. Three Canadian sailors died in the attack and 10 were wounded.

Burden, Lt.-Commander John Quinn and Able Seaman Elburne Baikie were all buried in the Yokohama War Cemetery in Japan.

Jamieson was taken to a hospital in Hong Kong. His leg was broken and the muscles of his leg twisted and torn by shrapnel. More shrapnel was taken from his face. He would suffer nightmares for two full years after the incident. “I’d wake up screaming at night, seeing Burden,” he says. “But it’s gone now: I don’t have that problem.”

After recovering from his injuries, he’d spend another two decades in the navy.

Sam Jamieson (right) getting decorated while in the navy.

Sanford Jamieson grew up in Kingston, one of 10 children born to First World War veteran Joseph Jamieson and his wife, Alice. Joseph Jamieson, a farm labourer, had served in the horse artillery during the war and suffered a mustard gas attack in Belgium. He would swallow baking soda every night before he went to bed to deal with the lasting effects of that injury.

Watching his father suffer did not deter his son from a military career. In 1943, Sam Jamieson was 18 years old and working in a Kingston stone quarry — he made 25 cents an hour — when he enlisted in the navy.

“Dad was always talking about the army, the army, the army,” remembers Jamieson. “So I decided on the navy: I didn’t know anything about it.”

He went through basic training and was assigned to convoy duty aboard HMCS Meon, and later HMCS Restigouche. Jamieson would take part in Atlantic convoys and the Murmansk Run — the perilous convoy voyage to northern Russia. It operated mostly in winter under the cover of darkness.

Sanford (Sam) Jamieson, 93, joined the navy at 19 years old during WWII and re-enlisted during the Korean War. He recalls the tragedy on HMCS Iroquois in 1952, when it was hit by a mortar from Korea, killing three and injuring ten. One of his mates saved his life, he says. He retired after 34 years of service and now lives at the Perley Rideau Retirement home in Ottawa.

After the war, he was discharged and went to work as a truck driver, but he missed navy life and re-enlisted in 1951. “I liked the travel, the spirit of it,” he says.

He met his wife, Helen, a schoolteacher, on a blind date in Halifax. They were married a year later, in 1956, and carried one suitcase of possessions between them. They went on to raise three children, Gord, Cynthia and Bill.

The family settled in Ottawa in the late 1960s. After he retired form the navy in 1972, Jamieson worked as a federal government supply officer for 12 years then became a captain in the army cadet corps, while also working part-time as a commissionaire.

Sam Jamieson (first row, left) in the navy.

He served for years as president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Greely, and every year in advance of Remembrance Day, Jamieson can still be found inside the Giant Tiger store in Embrun, offering poppies in return for donations.

He raised more than $3,000 last year.

“I don’t like to be idle,” he says.

Sanford (Sam) Jamieson, 93, joined the navy at 19 years old during WWII and re-enlisted during the Korean War.

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