By Greg Price
While there are those who served the armed forces at times of war, what sometimes gets forgotten are those that serve during times of peace.
On Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Taber Cenotaph, National Peacekeepers Day will be celebrated with the aid of the Taber Legion.
“It hasn’t been done here before. We are a national group with the United Nations Peacekeeping Association and we are in the process of getting a chapter here in Taber,” said Len Barry, a member of the UN Peacekeepers Association and the local Royal Canadian Legion, noting the public is welcome to attend.
On August 9, 1974, a Canadian Forces Buffalo Aircraft (Flight 51), left Ismalia, Egypt for a regular supply mission that included stops in Beirut, Lebanon and Damascus, Syria.
“They delivered everything from things like toilet paper to beer,” said Barry. “At that time in ‘74, it was pretty touchy over there where everyone was at everyone’s throat and the UN, we were kind of in the middle.”
The Canadian Forces Buffalo Aircraft was unarmed at the time, carrying resupply equipment and parts for UN troops stationed in the Golan Heights. There were nine passengers and crew members on the aircraft at the time.
On their approach to the Damasus airport, the co-pilot contacted the control tower for permission to land, which they were granted.
“Just before they were to land in Damascus, the Syrian anti-aircraft group got a little carried away and put a SAM (surface to air missile) missile in our Buffalo,” said Barry, adding the first missile only disabled the plane, but Syria did not end there. “Rather than stop there, they put two more in and blew the plane all to heck with all the passengers inside.”
Barry himself would show up two weeks later as an armed forces mechanic.
“It was very scary from Syria to Lebanon. You would have fighter jets, Migs come up, and the Israeli Phantoms come up and tip their wings. We hadn’t been told anything and we figured they were just being friendly, but no,” said Barry. “When we eventually got on the ground, we were told what happened two weeks before.”
In 2008, the Canadian government declared Aug. 9 as National Peacekeepers Day in honour of the brave men that gave their lives that day. It was the largest single loss of life for Canadians serving with the UN since the Korean War.
“We don’t say wars anymore. A lot of people think the Korean War wasn’t a war, even though a lot of people were killed,” said Barry. “The things we did back in the 70’s and the way up from there were ‘theatres of operation’ (or police actions) now. We go in and do our peacekeeping thing and keep people apart, but we still lose a lot of guys. This is a way to pay tribute to those people.”
The Taber/Vauxhall RCMP, Taber Police Service, fire department, mayor of Taber and reeve for the Municipal District of Taber have all been invited to the event that will feature the flag lowered to half staff, a last post, a laying of a wreath and short speeches at the Taber Cenotaph on Aug. 9 starting at 11 a.m.