Eddy Weetalktuk is seen in this undated file photo. The image is part of an exhibit at the Canadian War Museum in Ottwa, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War. (File photo)

Kuujjuaraapik veteran remembered 70 years after Korean War armistice

After many battles, Eddy Weetaltuk fought to preserve his story

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Inuk veteran Eddy Weetaltuk’s story lives on in Nunavik 70 years after the end of the Korean War, considered to be Canada’s “forgotten war.”

July 27, 2023, marks 70 years since the gruesome fighting of the Korean War came to a halt with an armistice.

Over the course of the three-year conflict — which still persists to this day as a hostile standoff between North and South Korea — 516 Canadians died in battle.

Historians often describe the Korean War, fought between 1950 and 1953, as Canada’s “forgotten” war. Both the First World War and Second World War overshadowed it in scale and bloodshed.

But in one Nunavik community, a local soldier’s story lives on.

Weetaltuk is believed to be one of the first Inuit soldiers to join the Canadian Army.

Born on the land, Weetaltuk’s home community is Kuujjuaraapik, the southernmost Nunavik community located on the Hudson Bay coast.

In 1951, when he was 18 or 19 years old, he enlisted as Eddy Vital. That was a fake name he had been using to hide the fact he was Inuk.

Weetaltuk served in Korea for much of the final year of the war, and stayed in the military for more than a decade afterward.

He died in 2005.

Salamiva Weetaltuk, Eddy’s younger sister, was just six years old when the fighting stopped in July 1953.

“I was scared of him,” she said in an interview, describing the day Eddy — by then in his early 20s — returned home to Kuujjuaraapik in uniform.

That’s the first memory she has of meeting him, as he had been living in the south before the war started.

Salamiva said her mother, Mary Weetaltuk, always kept track of the war on their shortwave radio.

Once a month, Eddy was able to call home on a phone he installed.

“She would listen about the war, which I wasn’t really paying attention to since I was a child,” she said.

“He had the phone installed so that he can call his mom once a month. Because my mom couldn’t afford it, he paid for it from way over there.”

After the war, Salamiva was curious about her brother’s stories.

But like many veterans who experienced combat, Eddy didn’t want to share what he went through.

Instead, he talked about the “nice stuff.”

“I was curious until the day he passed.… He seemed to not want to remember those days,” Salamiva said.

“All the friends and the people he met, he talked about them.… He was once very much in love with a girl that he couldn’t bring home.”

Eddy documented a lot of his experiences from the war through written works, including his autobiography From the Tundra to the Trenches, as well as drawings.

One drawing shows the joy Canadian soldiers expressed the day the armistice was announced — July 27, 1953 — when they learned they would be going home.

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has included part of Eddy’s story in a display marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

“He undertook a fairly sizeable effort to have his story told, and we’re very grateful he did because we’re able to include it as part of this exhibition,” said Andrew Burtch, a historian with the museum.

“It’s a really interesting and important story that we’re grateful has been preserved.”

Back home, Salamiva said her brother’s legacy lives on in the community.

In 2019, the Last Post Fund, a not-for-profit organization that ensures veterans receive proper funerals and burials as well as military gravestones, gave the family a proper gravestone at Eddy’s burial site in his other home community, Umiujaq.

Every year around Remembrance Day, Salamiva gets calls from people who want to talk about Eddy.

He’s still missed by many friends, and his military legacy lives on through his work as a leader for a time in the Rangers program.

“My brother was a good man, he wanted everybody to go to heaven,” she said.

“He was always encouraging Junior Rangers in Kuujjuaraapik and Umiujaq, so I’d like to give all the Junior Rangers and Canadian Rangers more encouragement and show them how proud I am of them to want to protect their country.”

  • A drawing by Eddy Weetaltuk shows Canadian soldiers celebrating the Korean War armistice. The man holding the phone and holding his hat in the air is supposed to be Weetaltuk. (Drawing by Eddy Weetaltuk)
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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Umi on

    He shared more. After every sunday school we would run to his place and he would always have treats to give us. He shared more. The last year of the war the Chinese preserved the North Korea and he had to endure it. He spoke of the Chinese more than Koreans. He fought the Chinese also.

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