'It's still hard'

Steve Bartlett
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Michael Power's uncle died during the Korean War almost 60 years ago, but the St. John's man didn't know the tragic details until recently.The insight came from one of Uncle Leo Lawlor's war buddies.Lorne RodenBush, who had reached out to the fallen soldier's family through a letter in The Telegram, recalled what happened May 26, 1951, in an email to Power.

Leo had become a driver shortly after arriving in Korea, even though he wasn't trained for the position.

"I saw Leo's truck returning from picking up the rations and water," RodenBush wrote. "I ambled over to the parked vehicle. Enquired as to how it was going. Thumbs up. Leo reached for his Sten gun (a cheap mass-produced weapon), removed the magazine, placed the gun between his legs. A round was still in the chamber and went off, with the shell hitting Leo in the heart. The accident happened in front of my eyes. His departure was instant."

Power has always known his uncle's death was accidental, but this was the first time he had heard the details.

He says he was totally surprised, and saddened.

"Even now, it's still hard," he said in an interview.

Leo Lawlor was his mom's brother, one of Madeline (Lawlor) Power's three siblings who went to war. (Leo's twin, Francis, survived and died last year. Lawrence, another brother, also survived and died a few years ago.)

Power was born three years after his uncle's death. Still, he said Leo remained part of the family and everyone was proud of him.

He said it was always such a sensitive subject and his mother would cry at the mention of Leo's name. She always called him "Poor Leo" because he died so young.

Late last month, Power and his family were pleasantly surprised to read RodenBush's letter.

In it, he wrote that in mid-October he was one of six Canadian veterans who visited South Korea.

One thing he did there was pay his respects to Leo.

RodenBush sent The Telegram a picture of Leo's grave in Busan and noted the man's family could contact him if they wish.

Power emailed RodenBush, who then replied with a note to share with the family.

He recalls some memories of his buddy, who he shared a bunk with during basic training.

RodenBush also recounted Leo's tragic death and sent photos of his grave.

"I wanted to show you his resting place - an absolutely manicured burial grounds," he noted. "He is remembered. For me at every Remembrance Day - as I remember pilots and airmen that also died much too young and in the service of our country. I know that Leo is remembered. You can be proud of him."

Power, no doubt, is.

The 11th day of the 11th month has always been special for the St. John's accountant.

This year, however, it'll have a heightened meaning.

"It'll be a teary-eyed day on Nov. 11 this year," he says, noting he and his son, Jeff, are contemplating a trip to see Leo's grave after Jeff finishes med school in Australia.

Leo will also be on RodenBush's mind as he attends Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National Cemetery in Ottawa.

He told The Telegram his army buddy's death made him grow up in a hurry and that contacting the family helps give him some closure. Interestingly, Leo and RodenBush had eerily similar regimental numbers.

The Newfoundlander's was NL 800052, while the Saskatchewan-born RodenBush's was SL 800052. There were 26,000 Canadians who served in Korea. About 12,000 are still living.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: @bartlett_steve

Geographic location: Korea, South Korea.One, Busan St. John's Saskatchewan

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