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Getting Mail From South Korea? You Might See This Ottawa Man on the Stamp

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As far as anyone knows, such a thing has never happened before. As part of its 62nd anniversary ceremonies marking the start of the Korean war, the Republic of Korea has issued a special stamp commemorating Maj. Robert Campbell Lane of Ottawa, whose 100th birthday is this week.

Never before has Korea issued a stamp commemorating a Korean veteran. And the fact that Maj. Lane is now believed to the the oldest veteran of that war -- American, British or Canadian -- didn't hurt his selection. Coincidentally, it was the end of June, 1950, that the army of North Korea, backed by China and the Soviet Union, invaded the South and conquered the peninsula but for the perimeter around the southern seaport of Pusan.

It was then the UN voted to stop North Korea by force. Since 1953 there's been no peace agreement, but a shaky 59-year ceasefire, which was invalidated after the North's attacks on Pyongyang. As well as being the oldest Korean war vet, Maj. Lane (he retired from the army in 1962 to become a high school teacher) must be one of the few men alive whose army commission in 1932 when he was 20, was signed by King George V (Elizabeth II's granddad) in 1932.

In World War II he was a captain in the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME). In the Korean war he was promoted to major and and commanded the RCEME workshop in Canada's 25 Brigade. Maj. Lane served in Korea when it was still a fluid, Second World War-type war of movement, before it mired down into First World War trench warfare.

"My dad's two brothers were also in WWII, one in the Medical Corps, the other a pilot," recalled Lane's daughter, Cathy Lane. "Mercifully they all came home." She said her father never talked much at home about either war, "he just moved and built another life."

Rather than recall the hardships of war, she said her father tended to relish the comradeship and shared experience of other veterans. These days he lives in the Perley and Rideau retirement centre, which Ms. Lane praises as a "wonderful place for veterans -- each veteran has his own room and doesn't have to share. They are treated very well."

Bill Black, president of the Ottawa unit of the Korean Veterans Association (KVA), coordinated a presentation ceremony for Maj. Black on June 22. At that time the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA) presented its highest award to Maj. Lane "for his tremendous service and (we) are humbled in honouring him on this occasion of his 100th birthday (on July 5)." MPVA Deputy Minister Yang Sung Jeong flew over from Seoul to make the presentation to Maj. Lane, who was also bestowed with the somewhat cumbersome title "Engineer Emeritus and Builder of the Foundation of the Republic of Korea."

He and eight other Korea Veterans who reside at the Perley Centre were awarded the Korean Ambassador for Peace medal. A message from MPVA Minister Park Sung Choon reads: "The 49 million people of Korea send him 49 million wishes for a most happy birthday and many more warm and happy years to come."

"My dad doesn't quite know what to make of it all," said his daughter. "But we're all very proud and pleased for him." Even she seems a bit dazzled at the enthusiasm of the Koreans, issuing two commemorative stamps in her father's likeness -- one when he was a captain in the Second World War, the other a contemporary shot with his medals.

"You know, to us he was simply our dad," she said. "He had no unpleasant memories of the army, didn't live in the past, didn't talk much about the war, simply got on with and got the most out of life." And now his likeness is on two 270 won stamps -- about 24-cents, the cost of mailing a letter in Korea.

Vince Courtenay, publisher of koreavetnews.com and the only non-Korean on the Advisory Council of South Korea's War Commemoration Committee, says choosing a Canadian soldier for the Commemoration stamp "is an indication of the respect and gratitude Koreans feel for Canadian who helped save their country from becoming like North Korea."