Vietnam memorial comes to Courtenay

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer

A gleaming red and white traveling memorial wall, emboldened with a Canadian flag, visited the HMCS Alberni Museum & Memorial (HAMM) on Aug. 18-19.

The memorial contains the names of 149 Canadians who were killed in Vietnam while serving with the United States Armed Forces (USAF), seven soldiers Missing In Action (MIA), two Canadian military personnel killed in action while serving with the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC), and two Canadian soldiers who were reported MIA with the ICSC who were not volunteers fighting with the US military.

Rob Purvis, Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association President and founder, organized the travelling memorial’s visit to HAMM  and said the names are unknown to most Canadians.

“Very few people in the United States or Canada know about Canada’s involvement in Vietnam,” says Purvis. “The purpose of the Memorial Wall is to honour Canadians who followed their conscience and fought for freedom in the Vietnam War and to educate and raise public awareness of Canadians who participated in the Vietnam War.”

Over 20,000 Canadians volunteered to fight or participate in the USAF operations in Vietnam.

Lewis Bartholomew, HAMM Director, says the museum has been trying to organize a visit for eight years because of its historical significance, and he and museum staff are delighted the memorial has stopped in Courtenay.

“If Korea is the forgotten war, the Canadian Vietnam soldiers are our forgotten veterans; Canada did not have an official military combat role and Canadians were and are still unaware that so many Canadians served the U.S. military in the war,” said Bartholomew. “For years they have faced discrimination from various organizations in their efforts to be recognized and remembered.”

The Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association (CVVA) membership consists of veterans who served in the Canadian and American Armed Forces during the Vietnam War from February 1961 to May 1975. Purvis, also a 76-year-old United States Army veteran, has rallied the preservation of the Vietnam War soldiers’ legacy for over four decades.

“I will continue to educate and spread the word about the military service of thousands of Canadians in Vietnam because so many are unaware of our legacy,” said Purvis.

He signed up for service in Vietnam when he was 21, along with three other childhood friends from his neighbourhood in Winnipeg, one of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Purvis served as an Airborne Ranger with the 4th Infantry Division from 1969 to 1970. During the war, he was a paratrooper who conducted reconnaissance patrols deep in the jungle to look for signs of the enemy.

In 1986 Purvis formed the CVVA to lobby for veterans’ rights and provide pertinent information concerning their benefits and combat-related injuries involving the chemical herbicide Agent Orange and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. CVVA’s first step was to organize a reunion of Canadians who served in Vietnam at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 1988, the CVVA lobbying efforts aimed at the Veterans Affairs Act paid off, with an amendment allowing for service-connected benefits to Vietnam Veterans in Canada.

In June 2005, the CVVA unveiled its travelling Memorial Wall, designed and built by Doug Anderson of the Fargo Air Museum. The memorial will also be displayed at The Military Museum in Calgary and the Royal Canadian Army Museum in Shilo.

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