Merrill Reid, 89, of Buchans shares memories of his proud but tumultuous time at sea aboard the HMCS Cayuga during the Korean War
Merrill Reid may have spent his working career underground in mines in his hometown of Buchans and beyond, but before that, Reid spent time as sea.
“You want to know about Korea, do you?” He begins matter-of-factly from the comfort of his long-time Buchans home. Married 64 years to his wife Phyllis, Reid reflects back to his early years.
There were three destroyers, he shares, the HMCS Cayuga, the HMCS Athabaskan and the HMCS Sioux.
First canadian guns
“I was a quartermaster on the Cayuga, the ship that fired the first Canadian guns in Korea,” he says. “I was 20 years old when I enlisted. I wanted to join the navy,” he says simply when asked why he went to war in the first place. If he was looking for adventure, he had found it.
“When I went down to Korea, well, the South Koreans were pushed right out in the water. You know? The North Koreans had them pushed out in the water. And then MacArthur, General MacArthur, he came aboard our ship and pushed the North Koreans back.”
When asked if he was ever injured in battle he laughs a little then says; “No, not that much.’’
There until the end
Reid saw active duty for the entirety of the Korean War.
“I went there in 1950 and was there until the end in ‘53 when the Armistice was called. There was a treaty signed on 38 parallel. There was about 10 or 15 Newfoundlanders down there with me. Oh, how much do I remember? More than I’ll ever tell,” he says.
Reid, who married his sweetheart when he returned, says even though war was tough, three of his nine children followed in his footsteps and joined the Canadian Army.
“I shared stories with the family through the years. If someone said, it must have been scary, I say, when we were down there we had to blow up a lot of stuff. I seen a lot of deaths.”
‘But he survived’
Reid said he wrote letters home as often as he could to stay in touch. He’s proud he returned to his hometown to raise his family.
“I’m now the oldest resident of Buchans. I was the president of the Legion here, and there was 35 of us in the Legion not too long ago. And they’re all dead now. I’m the only one left.”
He may be alone now, but he never forgets to remember. “I always got to go and lay a wreath for the veterans,” he says proudly.
Reid had a family history of service. During the Second World War, many of his uncles enlisted. “Newfoundlanders are a special bunch. One of my uncles was fighting against the Turks in Gallipoli, got a leg blew up in a (fox)hole in the war. But he survived.”
Reid reflects on his own service. “When we were in the Navy, we had to sleep in hammocks when the Americans had nice bunks. And it was really cold down in Korea.
“We used to be covered over with tarpaulins to keep ourselves warm at night. When Christmas come we had to go to the American supply ships to get some Christmas trees and candy for Christmas. I tell you, the Americans had everything that we didn’t.”
But the favour was returned, it sounds like. “When the yanks were getting slaughtered up in North Korea they tried to get ships up there to take them out and the only ship got up was ours, the Cayuga.
“Our ship, it got stuck in the mud going to get them but we got out. If not, if we didn’t get out of the mud, I wouldn’t be here to tell you. The coxswain got the boat out and got decorated for it. He got a medal, and I was in a wheelhouse with him then when that happened.”
Reid shares his ship had the youngest captain in the Canadian Navy, Captain Brock from British Columbia, who was in charge of the destroyer flotilla in Korea. His stories are fascinating. Was he afraid?
A good life
He doesn’t hesitate before answering. “I thought I would be afraid but once it all started bullets flying became just the same as eating your dinner to me.”
Does his grandchildren ask you about his service? He pauses. “Lots of memories. But I don’t like to talk too much about those days. You know, we were able to live a good life. I was never in the hospital and I’m almost 90 years old. I’m just grateful.”
Reid, who says he enjoys hunting and being ‘out in the woods’ says he is just proud he was able to ‘do his part.’
“I was proud to serve my country. I had a big family after and they all did good. That’s all that matters.”