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91-year-old veteran from Abbotsford honoured by South Korean president

John Molnar receives Ambassador for Peace medal at ceremony in Seoul
Abbotsford veteran John Molnar, 91, has just returned from South Korea where he was honoured with an Ambassador for Peace medal for his time there during Korean War. (Jessica Peters/Abbotsford News)

An Abbotsford man who served in the Korean War has been given the title Ambassador for Peace.

John Molnar, 91, has just returned from a trip to South Korea with his good friend Kelly Watson, vice president of the Abbotsford Legion. They were among a delegation of 200 veterans and family members from nine countries, invited by the South Korean government. They were all VIPs for a national ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, June 25, 1950.

The visit included meeting South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl, who personally placed the Ambassador for Peace ribbon around Molnar’s neck. Only four other veterans were given the medal this year.

The event was covered heavily by the national Korean media. The photo chosen for the front page of the country’s largest daily newspaper was of Yoon bowing deeply to Molnar as he walks across a stage. A copy of that newspaper is one of many souvenirs Molnar brought back to Abbotsford.

Molnar served in the navy aboard the HMCS Cayuga, part of an initial flotilla of three destroyers that set out from Esquamalt Naval Base, along with the HMCS Athabascan and HMCS Sioux. The crews were sent to help push back North Korean military, who had invaded without warning.

Molnar was deployed twice between 1950 and 1953. Eight Royal Canadian Navy ships served in Korean waters, manned by some 5,000 sailors. Molnar said they didn’t go ashore, instead they provided support from the waters. They slept in hammocks, and worked in cramped quarters. They loaded junk boats with ammunition, and provided intelligence and other support to allies.

He was able to meet face to face with shipmates on this trip, and although seven decades have passed, he said talking about those days stirred up many memories.

After his first deployment, Molnar came home for two months. It was then that his future wife, Kathy, caught his eye.

“We used to do the jitterbug back then,” he said.

By the end of the war, there were an estimated 1.5 million civilian casualities. He returned on the Cayuga as part of a peacekeeping deployment.

The support that came from United Nations member countries during and after the war has always been appreciated by the South Koreans, and honouring ceremonies have been taking place for some time.

This time, the honourees were treated to an event in the Dynasty Hall of Seoul’s lavish Shilla Hotel, after being selected by Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

“The freedom, peace and prosperity that the Republic of Korea enjoys today were built on the foundation of the blood, sweat, sacrifice and dedication of our veterans and veterans under the UN flag,” Yoon told the crowd. “The Republic of Korea will uphold your courage and noble spirit and do its part to defend freedom as a responsible member of the international community.”

He also said that his government will work tirelessly to locate and return the remains of soldiers of all nations who were listed as missing in action.

“Our government will not stop our efforts to recover the remains of those who lost their lives in the Korean War,” Yoon said. “We will do our best until the day that every last missing soldier is returned to the arms of their families.”

He spoke of how the success of their efforts then led to the advances of the nation today.

“You are the heroes that made possible the Republic of Korea of today,” he said.

He later met with every veteran and presented Ambassador for Peace medals to five veterans from the Philippines, the United States, Canada and Ethiopia. Also at the ceremony were Canadians Victor Flett, a 32-year naval veteran who served in Korea on the destroyer HMCS Crusader, and Ronald Foyle, who served on HMCS Cayuga in Korea as a stoker in the engine room.

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Korean War veteran John Molnar, centre, receives a medal from the president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol. (Submitted photo)
The president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, offers a deep bow to Abbotsford veteran John Molnar, 91. (Submitted photo)

Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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