Lech Kwasiborski’s thoughts flashed back more than four decades.
The retired Canadian Forces sergeant, now 65, was at the Westmount Cenotaph Sunday to attend the city’s Remembrance Day ceremony. When the master of ceremonies paused to let attendees reflect, Kwasiborski said his focus turned to his late father, who fought in the Polish army during the Second World War, and to Aug. 9, 1974 — the day that Syrian missiles shot down a Canadian military plane assigned to the United Nations Emergency Force in Syria.
“We lost nine people in one day, and I knew two of them fairly well,” he said in an interview. “It was my first tour of duty, and that changed my perspective on many things in life. One of the people killed that day was my boss, a former Polish refugee. I remember.”
Kwasiborski was among the hundreds of people who took part in the public ceremony under gloomy skies that concluded with dignitaries, including Liberal MP Marc Garneau and Westmount mayor Christina Smith, laying wreaths to honour fallen members of the armed forces. Escorted by a group of soldiers in full uniform, about 40 veterans subsequently marched through the city streets to the Westmount Armoury for a private event.
Montreal will hold its own Remembrance Day ceremony Monday starting at 10:30 a.m. at Place du Canada.
Despite the painful memories, Kwasiborski, who was stationed in Egypt at the time of the loss of the plane, said he welcomed the chance to get reacquainted with other Canadian veterans.
“On a day like today, there is a moment of 30 to 40 seconds of deep reflection,” he said. “Other than that, it gives you a chance to reunite with comrades you got to know over the years.”
Timothy Reid, who spent 16 years in the reserve force and served on several Canadian peacekeeping missions in countries such as Ethiopia, called the day “bittersweet.”
“I lost some friends,” said the 54-year-old, a former captain who also worked as a human rights investigator in Rwanda and remains involved in peacekeeping activities. “My grandfather served in World War II, along with great uncle. It’s important to remember their sacrifices.”
Reid, a lawyer by training, said he spends part of his time these days seeking compensation from the federal government on behalf of the Canadian experts who worked in eastern Ukraine as part of a mission for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
“We made about 25 per cent of what a Canadian soldier or policeman would have made on the same mission, and we didn’t even get a medal,” Reid said. “For two years, I was patrolling on the front lines in an active war zone, being told by Russian separatists they were going to kill me. So this is something I’m trying to get the government to give us compensation for.”
Nicholas Karkatsoulis, whose 11-year career in the army included time in Bosnia in 1993 as a master corporal, said he feels missions in countries like Afghanistan have made his compatriots more aware of the military’s contribution to the Canadian way of life.
“With the events of the past two decades, we’ve gone back to having young veterans,” he said. “Previously, most of the veterans we honoured were from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Today, we’ve got people who deployed to places like Bosnia or Afghanistan, and Canadians have begun to realize that we enjoy our privileges and our liberties because of the sacrifices that many have made. It seems to have brought a change to how we view veterans.”