04/25/2012 07:06 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Ashes of Canadian veteran buried beside his brother in South Korea

BUSAN, South Korea - Back in a country most of them saw for the first time more than half a century ago, about 50 Canadian veterans of the Korean War braved driving rains Wednesday to finally reunite a pair of brothers long since divided by the conflict.

Archibald Hearsey, born in Ignace, Ont., in 1929, had requested in his will that his ashes be returned to Korea and buried next to his older brother Joseph, who died in battle in 1951. Their remarkable story is one of the Korean War's most powerful tales.

Hearsey died in June of last year. Wednesday's ceremony marked the first time a war veteran's remains were brought back to be buried on South Korean soil.

"They were two small town boys that were separated by war," said Archibald's daughter, Debbie Kakagamic, who travelled to Korea with her son Solomon to attend the burial ceremony and visit her uncle's grave.

"Now they're together again."

The younger Hearsey joined the Canadian Armed Forces on Sept. 5, 1950, sailing to Korea the following February as a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

Unbeknownst to him, however, Joseph Hearsey had quit his job at Canadian Pacific Rail to join that same battalion on Jan. 6, 1951, and left for Korea in July of the same year. He described being so overcome with concern for his younger brother that he had to go to Korea to fight alongside him.

Archibald Hearsey continued his service unaware that his brother had made to trip around the world to Korea until they were tragically reunited on the battlefield on Oct. 13, 1951.

Returning to his troops one night after a battle, Archibald's comrades told him his older brother was with them. Joseph had been shot in the shoulder. Archibald arrived just in time to witness his brother's last breaths.

Joseph Hearsey was one of 516 Canadian soldiers who died during the Korean War, which lasted from June 1950 to July 1953. Canada was one of 16 foreign countries that sent troops; 26,791 Canadian soldiers fought as part of the voluntary force.

Health problems prevented Archibald Hearsey from ever returning to South Korea to visit his brother's grave at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, where 378 Canadians are buried.

"The Hearsey brothers may now rest in peace beside their comrades," said David Chatterson, Canada's ambassador to South Korea.

The visit was part of Korea Revisit Week, an annual event supported by the South Korean government. This year, a total of about 200 veterans from Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand spent five days in South Korea visiting historical sites.

Technically, North and South Korea remain at war. No peace agreement was ever signed between the two countries, only an armistice that governs an enduring ceasefire.

The visit was sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA). Independent fundraising in Canada covered the remaining costs.

"The week's events are a testament to the brotherly friendship between South Korea and Canada," said minister Park Sung-choon.

"I think it's a manifestation of the appreciation that the Koreans have for the Canadians who came here to defend their country," added Col. Jacques Morneau, Canadian defence attaché for South Korea.

"I think they realize that if not for the foreign forces they could be in the same position as those in North Korea."

After the burial ceremony, many Canadian veterans walked among the gravestones seeking out fallen comrades. George Hamilton walked slowly through the rain visiting the graves of some of the friends he lost.

"They're gone and I'm still here," Hamilton said. "I'm lucky."

The Korean War came only five years after the massive losses of the Second World War, and is described by many as the "forgotten war." Many veterans said they wish the conflict had a larger place in the Canadian consciousness.

Others expressed pride and wonderment at the incredible progress South Korea has made since they were last here.

"It's a miracle; it's totally changed after having come from nothing," said veteran Gerald Rische. "There was nothing here, and now they've passed us in a lot of ways."

Added Lt. Col. Pierre McIntyre: "It's amazing, the courage these people have had to bounce back against the atrocious obstacles they had to face."

Kakagamic was asked what she'd like people at home in Canada to remember about her father and uncle.

"Treasure each moment with their families," she replied, "and remember the sacrifices that were made so they could enjoy them."

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney released a letter to his South Korean counterpart, Sung Choon Park, thanking him for his support and involvement in the ceremony honouring Hearsey.

"Your personal dedication to honouring these Canadian veterans demonstrates the ongoing commitment shown by the Republic of Korea in recognizing the achievements and sacrifices made by all those who served during the Korean War," Blaney wrote.