Retired captain Don Delke gestures to a handsome young man marching in formation in a black and white photograph. “I’m glad my wife met the man in that picture,” he says, pointing to a younger version of himself. Capt. Delke was just over twenty years old when the photograph was taken during the Korean War in the 1950s. Now over eighty years old, Capt. Delke has a slight paunch and silvered hair, and only slightly resembles the young man who went to war over half a century ago. But, he still speaks with the voice of a young solider—one who still fights a war.
On the 12th of March, Capt. Delke hosted a seminar lecture on the Korean War, detailing both the efforts of the U.N. intervention and his own personal experience on the front lines. Although the lecture was hosted in conjunction with a fourth-year history class on Southeast Asia, the crowd also included a smattering of other interested students who came to listen to Capt. Delke’s perspective on the Korean War. Professor Fujiwara believes that this sort of personal perspective is invaluable to the study of history. “Historians make sense of these military clashes,” says Fujiwara. “But he gave up years of his life to serve. It puts a voice to the story.”
Capt. Delke began his military career at 14 in the army cadets, and at 16 he joined the 20th Field Battery Militia in Lethbridge. He was a sergeant serving at Camp Shilo in Manitoba when the Korean War broke out in 1950. Delke served during the entirety of the Korean War, and then went on to serve for another 12 in Korea and various other countries for a total of 16 years of military service.
During his service in Korea, Capt. Delke commanded Canadian artillery teams that specialized in bombarding enemy troops from a distance. He tells how rival American artillery troops believed that the enemy always attacked them harder than the Canadian troops. The Americans used this belief to justify why they consistently lost tactical ground compared to the Canadian force. That was until the Canadians found a way to prove them otherwise. “Well, we trained some of our signalers to talk like Americans and stole a few American helmets,” Capt. Delke says with a smile. “This time [the enemy] ran into a wall of steel, and that was the end of the argument with the Americans.”
Although most of his lecture focused on the Korean War, when Capt. Delke took questions he revealed a more personal battle he’s been fighting in civilian life: The captain has been a vocal advocate for veterans. “One of the things you have to remember is that we as veterans are pretty proud,” Delke explains. “With less than two per cent maximum, we have been able to successfully maintain that 98 per cent of our population can live in the safest country in the world… and that vast majority has very little thought about war.”
Capt. Delke’s advocacy does not simply end with pride for the actions of his fellow veterans. He argues that there are some extreme and virulent problems in how we treat survivors of war. “It appears our bureaucrats have a policy of rejection. You apply for help and the immediate answer is ‘we can’t do that.’ You ask for reassessment and they will say that it will take a minimum of twelve weeks.” Although he spoke with a quiet authority on the Korean War, the captain’s voice booms a steady roar when he talks about the terrifying, Kafkaesque bureaucracy that veterans face. “They hope that you will eventually get frustrated and give up,” Delke says. “Or blow your brains out. And that’s why we have so many suicides. Veterans are a very small per cent of the population, so why would [bureaucrats] do things for them?”
With this comment, the room falls into a tense quiet as the students that came to learn about the history of a war come to realize that battles are still being fought today. Capt. Delke is still losing soldiers, and despite having been a civilian for nearly fifty years, he’s still trying to meet the enemy head-on.
The reaction to the lecture was overwhelmingly positive. “It was really good,” says student Suzanne den Hollander. “I’ve never seen this sort of thing in any other class.” Capt. Delke stayed for several minutes to speak individually with interested students, and showed some other pictures and videos of his recent trip to the U.N. memorial in Busan, South Korea.
Capt. Delke ended the lecture not with a call-to-arms or a rousing speech, but rather with a declaration of his pride. “Although we as veterans are pretty proud… We’re even more proud of you and your generation. Hopefully there will come a time when this world can live in 100 per cent peace and security.” Although ensuring peace across borders is invaluable, as the captain showed us there are still battles to be won at home as well.