Korean-Canadian officer proud to be part of Imjin Hockey Classic

Article / October 30, 2019 / Project number: 19-0296

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — Captain Han Choi was just a boy in his native South Korea when he first heard the story of the Battle of Kapyong. Taking place over two days in April of 1951, it saw a battalion of 700 Canadians mount a successful defence against a Chinese force of 5000.

His parents would soon make the difficult choice to uproot and start a new life in Canada. Inspired equally by their courage and that of the Canadians at Kapyong, Capt Choi would later join the Canadian Army and realize his ambition to be a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), one of the very units behind the victory at Kapyong.

That connection is why Capt Choi was invited to be the master of ceremonies at this year’s Imjin Hockey Classic in Ottawa – the annual recreation of a friendly hockey game between PPCLI and the Royal 22e Régiment played on the frozen Imjin River in 1952.

This year’s game took place Saturday, October 26. As he explains in the following interview, Capt Choi prefers to enjoy Canada’s game as a spectator rather than a player. Still, his story is as Canadian as they come.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q1 Is the history of the original Imjin game something that your family were aware of? And in coming to Canada did hockey become part of your lives?

Our family didn’t really know anything about hockey until we came to Canada. I remember watching the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals Series back in 2004 with my family and friends. After that, watching hockey together became a routine for our family. I grew up playing soccer but I believe there is no better sport to spectate than hockey. Since I'm a Patricia and I have Korean heritage, the organizers thought it would be a good idea for me to be involved this year.

Q2 What inspired you to join the Army?

It goes back to my heritage.  My maternal grandfather is from North Korea and he was a university student in Seoul when the war broke out.  This influenced his life - he could never go back home. Being close with my grandfather growing up and hearing all the stories made me realize nobody should ever be prevented from going home and seeing their loved ones. I think that was kind of ingrained in me.

I remember visiting Kapyong and seeing the hills where Canadians fought the Chinese.  My family and I are truly appreciative of the Canadians who devoted their lives to protecting my ancestors. Inspired by their actions, I wanted to be a Patricia and serve the nation that allowed the life that my family and I have today.

Q3 Did your grandfather also make the journey to Canada?

No he did not. My dad, mom, younger brother and I immigrated to Canada in 1999. We moved to Calgary where I spent my whole childhood right up until university. My parents were a motivator too because they had to work really hard. They took a risk to give up everything in their motherland and come to this country to better their childrens’ lives. I really respect that. Now I'm 30 years old and I sometimes wonder, if I had to be in my father's shoes, would I have the same courage? I respect all immigrant families across Canada who had the courage to start a new life and contribute to Canadian society in their own unique ways.

My parents owned a convenience store. My dad worked hard. My mom helped out with the store as well as being a housewife. Whenever I came home she would always cook us food. She made sure we did our homework. I hated that as a kid, but looking back I am truly thankful for the opportunity to have a better life than they did.

Q4 So far what have been the highlights of your career?

Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you like the infantry?’  And I thought about it for a minute because 95 per cent of what we do is not very fun. It’s the other five per cent that makes me passionate about my job.  I said, ‘When you’re sleep deprived, soaked in rain sitting next to your buddy inside the trench and both of you are laughing hysterically at each other - those are the moments that make me love my job.’

I went to the United Kingdom to be an exchange officer with 4 Rifles. We went to Kenya to conduct training. The relationships I developed with the UK soldiers were incredible. One of the most memorable highlights in Kenya was when we volunteered to paint the local orphanage instead of going on post-exercise leave. Painting buildings, playing soccer, and teaching basic math to children was an amazing experience.

Q5 Are there any other ambitions you are working toward?

My goal in life is I want to be good at life.

To me being good at life is about respecting others, helping those in need, putting a smile on other peoples’ faces by being myself and having fun. I am not that special. I have failed more than I have succeeded in my life. I am here today because I had great people who supported and mentored me throughout life. I have no big career ambitions, I just want to be a good dude.

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