Honouring Canadian Armed Forces members who lost their lives in peacekeeping duties is an important mission.
The Chemainus Royal Canadian Legion Branch 191 joined in the festivities of National Peacekeepers’ Day Sunday with a ceremony at the Chemainus Cenotaph, including a flypast overhead by a CC-115 Buffalo aircraft from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron of Canadian Forces Base Comox.
Aug. 9 was first proclaimed by the B.C. government as Peacekeepers’ Day in 1993, with the Feds following to make it a national observance eight years later.
The commemoration marks the largest single-day loss of Canadian lives during peacetime operations. Nine Canadian Forces members died when their Buffalo aircraft was shot down over Syria on a United Nations mission in 1974.
The flight took off from Beirut, Lebanon for Damascus, Syria on a routine resupplying mission with five crew members and four military passengers on board.
Aircraft on such missions were required to follow specific flight corridors and there was no indication this flight was any different. The cockpit received authorization to enter Syrian air space, but a surface to air missile struck the tail of the Buffalo a short time later.
Smoke poured from the fuselage and the plane went into descent. During the investigation, it was determined Syrian surface to air missile operators may have mistaken the Buffalo for an enemy aircraft.
Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association B.C. chapter is grateful to Chemainus Royal Canadian Legion Branch 191 President Len Lavender and members for their participation and planning for the memorial.
Dr. Peter Leckie served as piper and Brock Caplin as the bugler for the Branch Colour Party. The nine wreath layers – all branch members – served mission tours with the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The planning for the ceremony had to be coordinated with Major Ryan Port, pilot for the RCAF Buffalo aircraft, explained member Dave Munro. Branch members Colin Murphy,Wes Everitt and Darlene Beggs did the work to achieve this.
The highlight of the ceremony was the RCAF 422 Squadron Buffalo, the same type of aircraft that was shot down by Syria with a loss of the nine Canadian Peacekeepers, for the flypast and salute at 18:55 hours.
Another challenge this year was the COVID-19 situation. Most members wore a mask for the entire event and Everitt maintained the social distance protocol. The event could not be advertised this year due to the virus.
Each year, the Legion uses its Poppy funds, first and foremost, to look after veterans’ and their dependents’ emergency needs in the area as required by the Branch Service Officer. Some of the other expenditures from this trust are to provide prizes for the Literary and Poster contests for school children in all grades, bursaries for graduating students of veterans’ families, donations for relief of disasters in Canada and medical training and research directed to geriatric support or for community medical appliances to help with the care of veterans.
Last year’s campaign raised $18,955.
Some peacekeeping facts:
* Col. Sid Burrows of Comox, a past Commanding Officer, was the only survivor of a plane that crashed on a UN mission in Pakistan in 1947.
* After a UN Mission in the Suez Canal region in 1956, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
* UN Canadian forces served in Korea from 1953 to 1956.
* A total of 125,000 Canadians have served in peacekeeping operations and 152 have died.
* Since 1995, Canada has worked more closely with the NATO than the UN for involvement in peacekeeping missions.