John Ko Bong

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John Ko Bong helped lobby British Columbia's Premier, John Hart, to allow Chinese into the military and became a member of Operation Oblivion. « View Transcript

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Wesley Lowe (Interviewer)

Even in his nineties, the pride that John Ko feels about his service in the armed forces shines through. However, even before he volunteered for service, he had to fight for the opportunity to serve.

John Ko Bong (Interviewee)

There was conscription had been declared and all the young Canadian boys 17 years of age were given notices to report right, report for military duty. The Chinese community said to us, we were the Youth Association leaders at that time, Roy and I. And we had a... a big public meeting to say which side shall we take. Are we going to fight with... side by side with the Canadians? Or are we going to sit on the fence (laughs) and let the Canadian boys do the fighting for us, eh?

So Roy and I decided that we're not going to be fence-sitters; we're not going to show that we're too yellow to fight. So we went up to the Canadian Scottish people at the Bay Street Armouries and then we joined up.

Well in those days all...all active force people went to Vernon. That was the basic camp there, so we trained... trained there for two months. And then that's your basic training and then you had took the advanced training by that time you'd get assigned to a unit and ... I think I took training in Toronto. Some was back east. I got shifted then assigned to an infantry unit.

After I finished what they called the advanced training, I went with the Canadian boys back east that are heading for... for England and Europe, for D-Day, and then I was lying in my bunk shooting the bull as they say (laughs) from the top bunk to the other boys. And a message came, "John, you're... you're, you ... go to ... go to the... go to the office right away and pick up your train fare to Toronto." So I picked up my fare, went down to Toronto, they said, "Well you report at... at this place." I went down to some kind of a hotel up... upstairs (rubs nose). Here to pass one room the second like here, one reception room and then, then the officers inside said, "Well you you're called up on a special duty." I said, "Oh how come?" See I thought I was going to go to England; I was got all excited... getting ready to go overseas to England and France, eh? See the... see the world a bit.

He said, "No," he said, "you're… you speak Chinese and you can read Chinese, you're going on intelligence group. Prepare to go to Hong Kong." And here I was growing up with boys I know, eh? (laughs) At that... that... that's at, at Oblivion camp in.

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Wesley

Operation Oblivion was a select group of 13 Chinese-Canadians chosen to go behind enemy lines in China to subvert the Japanese. The group was given little chance of survival, hence the code name Oblivion. However, a few scant weeks before they were to be parachuted in, bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing the Japanese to surrender. The nature of Operation Oblivion’s service changed.

John

When they declare the war has ended, well everybody was cheering and happy and everything else. We were going to be going home eh, but that fact that we were sent up north we were quite happy because we were going to be instrumental in receiving prisoners of war held by Japanese.

So in Manila we set up a big camp to receive the mainly British... British prisoner of war; and they'd been locked up in prisoners' camps in Japan. And they were, some of them starved to death, but those that were walking, able, they came back down to this refugee camp where we were, we had set up. And then they were, well there a few, maybe a couple thousand of them, eh? And they were… they came in walking like human skeletons. Jesus, when I saw them I said, ‘Holy smoke.’ All you could see was (medals clink) their head and the ribs, you know, skinny legs with no meat on them. And I said "Holy smoke." I said, "Where did these guys come from?" He said, "Oh they were just re...released from the Ja...Japanese prisoner of war."

This is part of what satisfaction, you might say, that we've been able to do as well as enjoy the experience of doing it, eh? Getting the job done and, what it was like to, to say we are, we are Canadians because we earned it, we made it; we helped to create it for the Chinese people here.

Did you Know?

Did you know that John Ko and his brothers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were named after the Gospels of the New Testament?

Copyright to Produce

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Interviewee: John Ko Bong

Duration: 5:37

Date modified: