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Heroic act recognized 66 years later; Korean War veteran Richard Alexander honoured for putting his life on the line


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AGUATHUNA — Richard Alexander is considered a hero on many levels.

Before Alexander shipped overseas during the Second World War, he was one of eight members of the Newfoundland Militia to enter a blazing building known as the Knights of Columbus Hostel in St. John’s.

It was December 1942 and he was just 17 years old. There were 99 people burned in that fire, he said, and he was one of several trying to get people out.

“I didn’t think I’d get anything for it — we didn’t look for anything, we were just trying to save people — but 66 years later I got a certificate,” Alexander said with a smile.

Alexander had been in St. John’s for 18 months in December 1942. He left home at 16 intending to join the navy — instead he ended up joining the Newfoundland Militia.

It wasn’t until after he had passed a medical and received his uniform the young man questioned his choice.

“I thought to myself, My God — what have I got into,” he said.

He served with the British Army during the Second World War, stationed first in England. During his time in England he trained with the British Commandos, a force formed to carry out raids against the Germans.

He described members of the British navy changing their uniforms for civilian clothing and going over to the French coast as fishermen to deliver supplies such as radio sets and demolition equipment to the French Underground — the freedom fighters. If they had been caught, they would have been shot as spies, he said. These missions were not sanctioned; they were not supposed to do it, he said.

Alexander later joined the 166, an artillery unit, in Italy and in 1945 returned to England where he met and married his wife. They returned home to Newfoundland in 1946.

“After I came back from the British army, I was home for a while but I couldn’t really settle down to civilian life so I went with the Canadian Forces,” he said.

When the Canadians joined in the conflict of the Korean War, Alexander was there with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry serving with Unit 166. Recently Alexander happened to meet a young Korean student enrolled at a college in Stephenville and boarding with a friend of his. The student found out Alexander had fought in the Korean War and wanted to meet him.

“She came over and she spoke perfect English and said, ‘You were in Korea with the army?’ and I said ‘Yes, I was over there during the war.’ And she said ‘Thank you. We are living so much better now on account of you.’ I didn’t know what to say — we were just there doing our work,” the veteran said.

Alexander said he felt the military was a good learning experience. He got to travel, to see a lot of places and how people lived.

“I had a good life, it was rough at times but I guess I think my whole life, if I look back over it — if I had to pick out one thing that really hurt me more than anything ... the fact that  ... the number of civilians I seen killed — bombed in England and the children that were killed in Korea and other places. I visited an orphanage in Korea and I thought it was horrible, we, I don’t think, realize what war does,” he said.

He was released from the army in 1972 following several years as a recruiter and has since given of himself time and time again. He helped Col. Abbott form the 2904 Cadet Corps in Port au Port and spent three years with the cadets. He was also instrumental in helping to form a militia platoon in Stephenville and was company commander until 1977.

In between these roles, Alexander also founded and managed his own construction business, building the Stephenville Mall, among other projects.

After he retired he was called upon once more to take on the role of honourary colonel. A role he filled for over seven years and that he retired from just over a week ago.

The war veteran continues to share his knowledge and experience. He visits schools every year on Remembrance Day, not to share the horrors of war, but to try to share his experience of the devastation caused by war.

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