JAMES COWAN, ARMY OFFICER 1928-2005
As a raw lieutenant, he took command in the middle of a battle in the Korean War and was recommended for the Military Cross
By BUZZ BOURDON
OTTAWA -- Jim Cowan achieved a rare distinction for an inexperienced 22-year-old army officer when he took command of his infantry company in the middle of a battle. On May 30, 1951, he was a lieutenant with the Second Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, commanding a platoon of 35 infantrymen during their first major action in the Korean War when his company commander was wounded.
Mr. Cowan's seniority got him the job, said John Woods of Ottawa, one of two other platoon commanders during the battle of Kakhul-Bong almost 54 years ago. "John Strickland of 9 Platoon had lost three-quarters of his platoon in the first five minutes of the attack. [My platoon] came up and took over his position, so Jimmy and I fought side by side up the hill."
Suddenly, word came that their commander, Major Harry Boates, had been hit by a Chinese mortar bomb. Mr. Cowan sprinted breathlessly over to Mr. Woods. "What date was your commission?" he asked.
Even in the middle of a battle, it was important for officers to observe certain professional niceties. "Feb. 16, 1948," Mr. Woods replied.
"That gave him three months seniority over me, [which] entitled him to take over the company."
They discussed what to do next. "We thought about making a full bayonet charge with both platoons, but we decided . . . it would have been suicidal."
The Second Battalion, which had formed at Camp Petawawa, Ont., less than a month after North Korea invaded South Korea on July 25, 1950, had trained at Fort Lewis, Wash., before shipping out on May 4, 1951. Placed under the command of the 25th U.S. Division, it had been advancing north of Seoul when it was ordered to capture the heavily fortified 500-metre summit of Kakhul-Bong and the village of Chail-li beyond it.
D Company, including Mr. Cowan and his men of 10 Platoon, had been told to take the main objective -- the twin peaks of Kakhul-Bong. At 6:30 a.m., Major Boates sent his three platoons leapfrogging forward until they were pinned down by Chinese machine-gun fire. A driving rainstorm that started at 7 a.m. didn't help matters. Not long after, Major Boates was wounded and Mr. Cowan took over the attack.
"Jimmy was very cool and very professional," said Mr. Woods, who remained a lifelong friend. "The way he accepted the responsibility of taking command was very impressive."
A handful of men advanced to within six metres of the summit of Kakhul-Bong, only to be stopped by heavy fire. "Victory was so near -- yet so far. Below, the Chinese could be seen concentrating in substantial numbers for a counterattack," wrote G. R. Stevens in The Royal Canadian Regiment, Volume Two, 1933-66.
"Determined to deny them access to the Chorwon Plains -- to which Kakhul was virtually the key -- the enemy opened up with mortar and artillery fire. In pelting rain and with no high ground for observation, it was obvious he was firing from guns which had been previously dug in and ranged," wrote correspondent Bill Boss of The Canadian Press. For three hours, both Mr. Cowan and Mr. Woods deployed their platoons "in a bombardment not seen by this correspondent since . . . the Second World War."
Mr. Cowan radioed battalion headquarters that his right flank was entirely exposed, reported that 3,000 Chinese soldiers in the valley below were preparing a counterattack and said he had only 70 men left. Brigadier-General John Rockingham, commander of 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group, ordered him to disengage.
Second Battalion had suffered six dead and 25 wounded. Both Mr. Cowan and Mr. Woods were recommended for the Military Cross. Years later, Mr. Cowan, who had been wounded that day, said that "becoming a company commander while under fire is an experience no young man ever forgets."
The son of a Toronto police officer, Mr. Cowan joined the cadet corps of the 48th Highlanders of Canada at 13. He was commissioned into the regiment seven years later before volunteering for the regular army in 1950. After the Korean War, he followed the conventional career path of thousands of officers, including battalion and staff postings in Canada and Europe.
In 1953, he enjoyed an unusual job for an army officer when he cruised the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific as ground-liaison officer aboard the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent. While in Halifax aboard Magnificent, he met a navy nurse named Betty-June Ballantyn and they became sweethearts. Then, after spending a number of years in Vietnam and Laos as part of the International Truce Commission, Mr. Cowan returned home in 1957 and they married.
The next 13 years saw Mr. Cowan and his family assigned to postings around the world, including stops in India, Germany and the United States. He commanded his original unit, the Second Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, in Soest, West Germany, from 1968 to 1970. He retired from the Canadian Forces in 1982 as a brigadier-general. He later spent seven years as CEO and priory secretary of St. John Ambulance.
Brigadier-General James Albert Cowan was born on Sept. 30, 1928, in Toronto. He died of lung cancer on Jan. 1, 2005, in North Bay, Ont. He was 76. He is survived by his wife, Betty-June, sons Ian and Scott and brother Bill.
He was predeceased by his brother Dave and his sister Jean.
He will be interred with full military honours in Ottawa's National Military Cemetery in May.
Paul Edward Burden [DFC, CVSM]
By CARL G. ERICSON and ERIC M. WRIGHT
Globe and Mail, Monday, March 28, 2005 Page A16
Second World War hero, husband, father, grandfather, community leader. Born Aug. 7, 1920, in Pokiok, N.B. Died Feb. 18 in Fredericton, of Parkinson's Disease, aged 85.
Born and raised on a farm, he attended Montreal's MacDonald College, but left after one year to join the RCAF at the age of 19, enlisting on June 27, 1940. Paul was posted to the United Kingdom in 1943. As a pilot with the 434 Squadron and 405 Pathfinder Squadron respectively, Lieutenant Burden remained active until war's end, completing 43 missions.
In the post-war period, the story circulated that Paul flew a Lancaster bomber under the Carleton Street Bridge in Fredericton on his way to an air show, and decided to "salute" his mother on the way. This became one of this city's most famous and enduring myths. He was often questioned about it, and took great delight in never denying it. There was a military hearing to investigate the allegations, and although the air force testified that his was the only Lancaster in the air at that time of day, nevertheless he was acquitted. A RCMP officer testified that he was about to walk across the intersection of Carleton and King Streets and he was glad he looked both ways because there was a Lancaster bomber coming up Carleton Street.
Paul received his demobilization from the air force in 1946. During his career as an airman, Paul was awarded (among others) the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery; the France-German Star, 39-45 Star; the Canadian Volunteer Service medal and clasp, and the Victory medal for wartime service.
In recognition of service to country and community, he also received the Queen's Coronation, Silver Jubilee, Centennial and Golden Jubilee medals; Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Meritorious Service, Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Long Service and Fédération des Combattants Volontaires Alliés Canada medals.
He was devoted to his wife of 58 years, Iris, whom he met overseas and who served in the air force. They shared the joys and challenges of eight children, 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He enjoyed raising and grooming both dogs and Peruvian Passover horses and often rode the latter in local parades in full regalia.
In civilian life, Paul was well-known in the stationery profession and took the ups and downs of business without complaint. He was an active community volunteer, and gave willingly of his time to many local, provincial and national organizations.
Paul brought one of the first Bullmastiff breed of dogs into Canada. Walter, a descendent, was the Bullmastiff who helped Paul run his stationery store and is the dog behind the story of Walter The Farting Dog, a best-selling children's story that has been read around the world. The actual Walter was always with Paul and usually sprawled outside his office.
Walter was involved in a small altercation one time, which lead to litigation and the plaintiff's lawyer questioned Paul regarding Walter's disposition and the likelihood of his turning vicious. He brought up the fact that he often met Paul at the post office in the mornings and noticed that Walter was usually sitting in his car. He posed the question whether Walter would bite him if he were to get in the car and pretend to steal it. To which Paul, replied: "Only if you were disguised as a doughnut or covered in gravy." This brought the proceedings to an immediate halt.
Those of all ages who knew Paul smile at his memory through our tears.
Carl and Eric are friends of Paul Burden.