Leonard “Scotty” Wells
Sailor on HMCS Cayuga
The Korean War had contentious beginnings, and its very distinction as a war was highly debated. Over 25,000 Canadian Forces members served, 516 of whom died in Korea. The Memory Project is committed to honouring the stories of those who served there. Leonard “Scotty” Wells was one such Canadian Forces member who served in the Korean War. In his testimony, he tells the story of the truth about Dr. Cyr, the great imposter, as well as what he describes as his most terrifying experience during the war. Countless Canadians have heard Mr. Wells’ story of service through his participation in The Memory Project. This is an edited excerpt of a longer interview. The full version is available on our website at www.thememoryproject.com.
We worked with the ROK Navy [Republic of Korea Navy], and they were on small ships, maybe 30 people, or 20. And they occupied a lot of the islands behind enemy lines, and they still retain those islands. So our job was to help these people. They’d send us a message that they were running out of provisions or they had no rice left or something. We’d give them what we could. The [South Korean] guerrillas were always conducting raids on the mainland, so they would call us in for gunfire support. And they would go in, maybe 30 guys, and they would raid the mainland and steal whatever they could, green vegetables — anything — and bring it back for themselves. So we were doing a lot of gunfire support. They just called — they’d usually have a signalman or an operator with them that could speak enough English, that would say, “Okay drop a shell, so and so,” or “so and so,” and we would do that.
I knew the number of shells we expended, but it was well over 10,000 orange shells. And we were shot back at quite a lot of times by small arms fire. They usually weren’t very accurate. There was a peninsula called the Am-gap Peninsula. We’d been up there lots of times before and we pulled up there this day. Because we’d been warned the day before that the guns had opened fire on another ship, so we were going to destroy those guns. We pulled in there, dropped the anchor — I don’t know why — and this was on the second trip over, so we had Commander [James] Plomer as our captain.
The next thing you know, two shells landed and a great geyser of water came up and everybody got soaked on the quarterdeck. Then two more came in beside us. Now we were at anchor, so instead of pulling the anchor up they slipped it. There’s a chain you can knock and — we let the anchor go. We had to go back and get it a few days later. And we backed out of there. And we’d no sooner moved backwards than, right where we were sitting, there was a great shell explosion. If that had hit us, we’d probably have been blown up, you know.
Anyway, we got back out of there, and then we called in the air — the planes from the carriers. And they napalmed the whole hill; they lit it on fire. I mean those napalm bombs, when they hit, you just see fire going everywhere. Unbelievable. The heat. But yet, a few days later, it obviously didn’t do any harm, because they were still shooting at people. They had their guns in caves, on rails. So they’d wheel them out, shoot, pull them back in. You couldn’t destroy them.
Dr. Cyr was an officer. He was a short, kind of heavy-set guy. Not many officers would come into the mess deck of lower ratings like us, but he would often come down into the communications mess or the seamen’s mess and talk to you. He was a real nice guy. And I got needles from him — we were always getting inoculations for something.
We were on a very big raid one day, and we were giving gunfire support — and I don’t think there was another ship there, except the ROK Navy. There was a few guys shot up and there were three or four of them brought back to our ship, which is normal. They were badly wounded, and I remember as if it was yesterday. I was sent back out from the bridge for something, and there were three or four stretchers laid out off the captain’s cabin. And Dr. Cyr came out; he’d just finished operating on one of these fellows. He was just dripping in sweat. You could see, I mean obviously the pressure the guy was under was unbelievable. But he was just dripping with sweat, and according to all records he actually saved their lives. He took a bullet near one guy’s heart out and his experience was, well, I think he’d had a little bit of medical knowledge because he worked in the Halifax hospital [at HMCS] Stadacona [Nova Scotia] before he went over.
He pulled a captain’s tooth out one night; [he’d] had a wisdom tooth that was really bothering him something awful. This was before this particular action, but the captain says, “I gotta have this tooth out.” Dr. Cyr went and read a book on dentistry. Next morning, he pulled the captain’s tooth. And he said, “That was the best job I have ever done.”
So anyway, we got a message about Dr. Cyr from my friend who was a decoder, a communications specialist. He decoded the message that Cyr was likely an impostor. The message was taken back to the captain, and the captain said, “I don’t believe it, it’s not possible.” So I guess he called Cyr in, and he admitted it. That he was an impostor and wasn’t a doctor. The next time we saw him it was a couple of days later. He was sent back to Tokyo, I think, flown back to Canada and discharged.
We were way north of the 38th parallel [separating the Koreas], and we were ordered to drop two men off on an island behind enemy lines to count ships. So, myself, as a signalman, and Petersen, another naval guy, we were sent off in the morning in the ship to be dropped off on this island. And we were scared to death. They didn’t know for sure if there was anybody on there. We were armed with — I had a revolver, which had five shells. I don’t know why five, but it only had five. And Petersen had a Lee-Enfield [No. 4 Mk. 1 bolt-action] rifle with one clip of ammunition. That was our total ammunition.
We were taken out, dropped on this island, and we climbed up as high as we could because we had a walkie-talkie type thing to communicate. And we were left there all day. Well, we didn’t know — we didn’t walk around the island. I’ll tell you, we hid as much as we could. And I think we counted half a dozen junks going by, and I don’t know what was relative to that. And the HMCS Cayuga went much further north, did some gunfire support or something, and then picked us up on the way back. That’s probably the most nerve-wracking day we had.