Peacekeepers horrified by desecration of Calgary memorial to fallen comrades

A memorial to a Canadian peacekeeping air crew who were killed after being shot down while on a mission in the Middle East in 1974 had been cleaned up on Monday morning, August 31, 2020. The memorial had been vandalized with graffiti.

As a Canadian peacekeeper in the Middle East, Rick Wright was one of the last to see a plane load of fellow soldiers alive before their aircraft was shot down.

So when Wright and his wife Linda saw a memorial to the nine soldiers lost on Canadian peacekeeping’s darkest day had been desecrated with graffiti in a southwest park, it felt like a personal attack.

“It really struck . . . it’s why I get emotional about this,” said Wright, president of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping.

What angered the couple — both peacekeeping veterans — was the word “kill” scrawled in chalk in several places over a curved wall surrounding a plynth and aircraft propeller honouring the Canadians killed on Aug. 9, 1974, when their DHC-5 Buffalo aircraft was shot down by Syrian missiles as it approached the airport at Damascus.

When it was brought down, the plane had been on a routine supply mission.

Wright also discovered that the rear of the plynth at Buffalo Park had also been tagged with chalk graffiti, an act likely perpetrated last Thursday or Friday.

The desecration, he said, reflects a disturbing ignorance about the role of peacekeeping troops whose duty is to separate warring factions and help civilians caught in conflict.

“Our peacekeepers don’t kill, it’s not why Canada sends people out to do peacekeeping,” he said.

Since the clutch of peacekeeping memorials was erected in the early 2000s in the Garrison Green neighbourhood, this is the first act of vandalism Wright can remember.

“Hopefully, it’s the last,” he said.

Wright said he and his wife have been told by city police that a youthful vandal has been picked up and forced to clean up the graffiti.

He chalks up the offence to an effort to copy the recent vandalism of historical monuments in both the U.S. and Canada.

“I’m hoping a lesson has been learned,” said the veteran of two UN peacekeeping missions that also included Cyprus.

Inspired by the 1974 tragedy in Syria, Aug. 9 is recognized in Canada as Peacekeeper Day.

Wright’s group says 114 Canadian peacekeepers have died in dozens of missions since 1947 that have involved more than 100,000 Canadian soldiers.

Many others have taken their own lives following those duties due to post-traumatic stress.

Some of those troops have also engaged in humanitarian missions in areas hit by natural disasters.

But Canadian peacekeeping troops have been forced to fight, most notably against Croat troops in southwest Croatia in 1993.

In past decades, Canada has been a leader in peacekeeping efforts, though its commitment in recent years has lagged.

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