Special stones to finish their commemorative journey in Korea

For almost six years, a zippered plastic bag filled with rocks reminded Guy Black of a journey left unfinished.

On June 17, Black and his friend, Sonny Son, will travel to South Korea to complete that journey by placing the rocks at a monument in the United Nations cemetery in Busan honouring 378 Canadian soldiers who died in the Korean War.

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The rocks represent a personal connection to one of those soldiers. Black said they were collected from Hastings Lake on Mount Seymour by Tim Jones, the late leader of North Shore Rescue.

And the reason he did that — as well as the origins of Black’s journey — go back to 2004.

That’s when Black attended a Remembrance Day ceremony in North Vancouver and found, amidst the names of the city’s veterans lost in the First and Second World Wars, one that stood apart: Donald Hastings, the city’s only casualty in Korea.

“It felt very lonely,” said Black, a member of the British Columbia Military Historical Society.

Thus, he embarked on a quest to get Hastings’ sacrifice recognized in a more significant way.

Black researched the young soldier, connected with a member of his family, then tried to get a street in the city named after him. When that failed, he approached the provincial government about the possibility of naming a lake.

In 2013, a lake on the east side of Mount Seymour Provincial Park that was unofficially known as the Lake with No Name became Hastings Lake. 

Black marked the commemoration by embarking on a 72-km walk from Banting middle school in Coquitlam, which his kids attended, to the Korean War memorial in Burnaby’s Central Park, with a detour to Hastings Lake. He was accompanied by his friend, Son, a Korean veteran of the Vietnam War, whom he’d met at a remembrance event in Pitt Meadows.

At the lake, Black helped erect a plaque for Hastings and Jones presented him with the stones he’d retrieved from the lake. 

When Black’s 24-hour jaunt ended, he handed off some of the stones to an official who said he’d bring them to Korea, but as far as he knows, that never happened.

The baggie of remaining stones sat in Black’s den.

“I just held onto them,” he said. “They came in and out of my life as time passed.”

That is, until last year, when Black decided he would take the rocks to Korea himself.

Son signed on as Black’s travel companion almost immediately, not only to act as his friend’s guide but also out of a sense of duty.

“I survived,” Son said of his own wartime experience. “But those who died, they are forgotten. That is more important.”

Black will transport the stones in a special wooden box he carved from a fallen yellow cedar on Seymour, and they were recently blessed in a ceremony at Ioco United Church.

The two men will also bring along a letter from the B.C. Legislature as well as a poppy wreath and provincial flag. The commemoration ceremony June 24 in Busan will include officials from the Canadian embassy and Korean government, and will feature 400 Canadian flags crafted by students.

Black said the day will be as much a realization of a quest as the conclusion of a journey.

“It’s about a forgotten soldier and finishing what began a long time ago,” he said. “It would not be fair to his memory to not do anything.”

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