WORLD

Honoring Canada’s dead

ANDREW BILSKI May 1 1995
WORLD

Honoring Canada’s dead

ANDREW BILSKI May 1 1995

Honoring Canada’s dead

Easily missed among the 58,196 names chiselled into the black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington are the names of at least 101 Canadians. There are probably more—as many as 300 others—but identification is difficult because military recruiters often recorded the U.S. city where Canadians enlisted as their birthplace. An estimated 10,000 to 35,000 Canadian soldiers served in Vietnam under the American flag—the latter figure roughly equal to the number of U.S. draft dodgers and deserters who found sanctuary under the Canadian Maple Leaf during the same period.

Now, two decades after the fall of Saigon, Parkes and fellow members of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans’ Coalition are still trying to win official American and Canadian recognition for all the Canadian veterans of the Southeast Asian conflict. “We all did our duty, Americans and Canadians alike,” says Parkes. “You might have hated the war, but there’s no reason to hate the men and women who served there.”

own country. And last year, the Royal Canadian Legion finally offered membership to Vietnam veterans, reversing its previous stand of refusing to recognize Canadians who fought with foreign forces in a war in which Canada had no direct interest. But the coalition has had no luck in finding a home for an 11 -foot-high memorial to Canadian dead donated by U.S. veterans in Detroit. Ottawa’s National Capital Commission has refused to accept it, arguing that memorials on federal lands are limited to individuals or groups who “have been active in Canada or on behalf of the nation.”

One of the Canadians who went to war is Ron Parkes, 51, now a provincial corrections officer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre. As a young paratrooper with the U.S.

army’s 101 st Airborne in 1965, Parkes saw many of his comrades die in combat.

The fight for recognition has been an uphill struggle, but there have been some notable successes. After two years of lobbying by the 2,000member coalition, the U.S. Congress in 1988 agreed to grant medical benefits and pay for treatment of ailing

Canadian veterans in their That exclusion riles Parkes and fellow Canadian veterans who argue that Canada actively helped the U.S. war effort. Ottawa allowed testing of the herbicide Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown, N.B., and permitted U.S. bomber pilots to practise over Suffield, Alta., and North Battleford, Sask. Meanwhile, some 500 Canadian firms sold $2.5 billion of war matériel to the Pentagon, including napalm, ammunition and aircraft engines. They also exported $10 billion worth of food, boots and berets for U.S. troops, as well as metals and alloys for shell casings, plate armor and military transport.

Parkes also points out that there is a monument in Washington to Americans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces before the United States entered the Second

World War. His colleague Lee Hitchins, 50, president of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans’ National Memorial, has recently commissioned designs for a made-inCanada monument that will stand on privately donated land in Nepean, southeast of Ottawa. Hitchins, who served with the U.S. navy in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966, says that the Canadian memorial is an obligation to fallen comrades-in-arms and their families, as well as a chance to heal old wounds. “It’s something,” added Hitchins, “that has to be done.”

ANDREW BILSKI