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Princeton Korean War vet says it wasn’t really like M*A*S*H*

Al Lewis was a rifleman at the front lines
Al Lewis, Korean War veteran, and his wife of 69 years Eileen. (Andrea DeMeer photo)

“War is long periods of nothing, followed by moments of panic and fear.”

At least that’s how Al Lewis of Princeton, who served during the Korean War, describes the experience.

Today, Lewis is 89. He enlisted to fight when he was just 17 and he lied about his age to sign up.

“Well, there was a war on, and I wanted to go,” he said matter-of-factly, in an interview with the Similkameen Spotlight.

“They asked me the year I was born, and I just told them the year before that.”

Lewis trained for one year on Canadian soil before being deployed as a rifleman at the front, approximately in the area of the present border between South and North Korea.

The battle line was fluid.

“We were always moving back and forth.”

The soldiers fought from trenches, roughly three feet wide and four feet deep. They lived above those, in bunkers dug into the hillsides.

The winter was bitterly cold with lots of snow, and in summer it was monsoon season, and the rain caused flooding.

While Lewis can speak of the fighting – “yes, I’ve seen dead and I’ve seen wounded” – he also remembers camaraderie, pick-up ball games, and that the food wasn’t too bad. Behind the lines, mobile kitchens fed the war effort.

One morning, not satisfied with his pack of rations, he decided to leave the bunker and head back for a hot breakfast.

It was a choice that nearly cost him his life, as the moment coincided with an aircraft artillery strike.

He fell to the ground and covered his head, saying afterwards it was one of the few times he was truly afraid.

When asked if the Korean War was really like the iconic television series M*A*S*H*, he enjoys a protracted laugh.

“No, not at all. But that was a comedy show. It was so funny, and I really liked it, and I liked the actors, but no.”

Lewis returned to Canada after 12 months in the trenches and married the love of his life, Eileen.

The couple looks forward to celebrating their 70th anniversary in the coming year.

He remained in the forces for his entire career, as a peacekeeper, and was stationed in numerous hotpots around the globe. “I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of the world and (people) have been good to us. It’s a good life.”

Eileen admitted raising a family and being an ‘army wife’ has not always been easy.

“I would do it again, but only with him,” she smiled.

Related: Boy from Tulameen becomes soldier, officer, and wounded veteran – with no regrets

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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