On August 9, 1974, a Canadian Buffalo aircraft flying over the Mediterranean skies was shot down by Syrian forces, and all nine lives aboard were lost.
This tragedy took place while Canada was serving on United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) II, providing not only boots on the ground but logistical support for the UN observers on the Golan Heights. This single incident claimed more lives than at any other time in nearly 70 years of Canadian peacekeeping.
To honour the sacrifice of the nine Canadian soldiers and all of those that have served on peacekeeping missions before and since, every Sunday closest to August 9 is the day Calgary commemorates National Peacekeeping Day.
“We are commemorating what are referred to as the buffalo nine, and those were the nine Canadians soldiers that were killed when that Canadian buffalo aircraft was shot down over Syria. That’s why we commemorate Peacekeeping Day in August,” said WO (ret’d) L. Tex Leugner, member of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nationals Peacekeeping (CAVUNP).
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has served on a number of United Nations Peace Enforcement and Peacekeeping in disputed territories around the world including Korea, the Congo, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, Haiti, Central African Republic, Vietnam, and Rwanda. Just recently, CAF troops have once again been sent on peacekeeping missions, this time to Mali and Northwest Africa.
For many veterans of these types of missions, peacekeeping can be much more scarring than anything else they have participated in during their careers.
“Just imagine yourself as a peacekeeper. You were in Rwanda, or Gaza, or Cyprus and you saw an atrocity being committed. Just imagine there is nothing you could do about it. That would make people remember that for the rest of their lives,” explained Leugner.
Veterans like Leugner, who was deployed on three peacekeeping missions during his career, believe that CAF soldiers should not be sent on peacekeeping missions unless certain policies are changed.
“Before peacekeepers are sent on any either peacekeeping mission the rule of engagement has to be changed so that peacekeepers can not only defend themselves when they’re attacked, but they should be able to jump in and stop atrocities without asking permission,” added Leugner.
Because of these special circumstances, a special ceremony, organized by CAVUNP, is held every year in Calgary to recognize Peacekeeping Day. This year’s ceremony, which will be held on Sunday, August 11, honours not only the Buffalo Nine but also the Memorial Cross families of fallen Peacekeepers. Their names will be engraved upon the Wall of Honour at Calgary’s Peacekeeper Park. The ceremony will also include the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta as the guest speaker.
Every year there are anywhere between 400 and 500 people who attend the Peacekeepers Day ceremony.
Calgary’s Peacekeeping Ceremony will be held August 11 at 11 a.m. at Peacekeeper Park in Calgary. For more information, contact WO (ret’d) Leugner at [email protected].