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There’s no debate here

May 2008
While Toronto City Council is debating whether new streets should be named after soldiers who died in Afghanistan, some feel that Afghanistan veterans should not receive such an honour because most of them have been killed by roadside bombs, rather than in combat. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of pigeonholing veterans according to whether they saw combat or not.


Although there is a certain esprit de corps amongst those who have seen combat that can never be shared by those who didn’t, it is wrong to be categorizing veterans in such a way. This is why:

  1. Military personnel in Afghanistan have seen active combat, such as during Operation Medusa. I have spoken to several Afghan veterans and even interviewed some for articles. One of the fellows had an active role in Operation Medusa and even lost two friends. His story is similar to those I’ve heard from WWII veterans.
  2. In 1993, the Star of Military Valour, became the second highest valour award given for “distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy.” It has been awarded 19 times since then, all to soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The most recent recipient is Major David Quick of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, for “leading troops for the front during several intense combat operations throughout Afghanistan Zharney District.”
  3. In September 1993, Canadian soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, saw active combat at the Medak Pocket, in southern Croatia in the former Yugoslavia, as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). This was the biggest battle Canadians have fought since the Korean War, but unfortunately, it is often referred to as “Canada’s secret battle”, and was never publicized at the time. Shockingly, it wasn’t until 2002 that Lieutenant-Colonel James Calvin, the Canadian commander, and his troops were finally decorated for their bravery.
  4. For many years, Korean War veterans were not given the respect that they deserve,. Many consider it “the forgotten war” It was not until the eve of Remembrance Day 1991 that the government of Canada honoured veterans of the Korean conflict with the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.Korean War veterans have much to be proud of, especially those from (once again) the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. 2 PPCLI has the unique distinction of being the only Canadian regiment to have received the Distinguished Unit Citation from the President of the United States for their actions during the Battle of Kapyong in April 1951.
  5. Many service personnel have given their lives serving on UN or NATO peacekeeping missions. Are their sacrifices not worthy?If none of the above convinces you, consider this:
  6. Do military personnel who died in WWI or WWII in training accidents or from illness deserve the same honours as those who died from an enemy bullet? The answer is yes. Many men and women did their service in Canada as training instructors or in Home Defence Regiments. How about those who joined too late in the war to see overseas action (I personally know two such veterans). They served their country too and some gave their lives for it.

Cadet James Talbot, a trainee with the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, Canada, has the unfortunate distinction of being the first fatality at Camp Borden and the first casualty of military flying in Canada. James Talbot died on April 8, 1917, Easter Sunday, when his Curtiss ‘Jenny’ aeroplane crashed; a crash that also seriously injured the pilot instructor who accompanied him. James was 23 YEARS OLD. His gravestone reads, “A noble young life given in service”.

Just because he never saw active combat is no reason to forget that James Talbot gave his life for his King and country, and thankfully he hasn’t been forgotten. On July 10, 1999, the new aircraft Control Tower at CFB Borden was dedicated to the memory of Cadet James Talbot in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

We should honour all veterans who have died in the service of their country; we shouldn’t make it conditional honour. Period.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/theres-no-debate-here/

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