A small ceremony was held at CFB Esquimalt to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait during the Gulf War recently.
Commanding naval officers of that conflict joined other Gulf War veterans to commemorate the anniversary of what, for all of them, has become one of the defining moments of their lives.
Gulf war veterans sat in silent rows, listening to the speakers and occasionally glancing at the Canadian flag that flew above the speaker’s podium. That flag was the same Canadian Flag that was raised over the Canadian Embassy on the day Kuwait was liberated.
The flag was briefly referenced by Rear-Admiral Ken Summers (Ret’d) during his remarks. Summers commanded the Canadian Naval Task Force in the Gulf during the war and had been presented with the flag years later in recognition of the navy’s role in the conflict.
“That’s the flag,” said Summers. “If you look carefully you can still see the flecks of oil from the oil fires.”
Those fires had been lit by retreating Iraqi forces and took months to extinguish following the conflict.
The war began on the night of Aug. 1, 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait.
Most Canadians expected Canada would take no active role in the conflict (the United States had launched Operation Desert Shield, and later Desert Storm). But, instead, Canada chose to join a coalition of countries who had heeded the call of the United Nations to join in a naval embargo with the intent of isolating Iraq and also to aid the land forces striving to free Kuwait.
For many Canadians today, the conflict is nothing more than a vague memory, according to Rear-Admiral Roger Girouard (Ret’d), a Gulf war veteran.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people (in Canada) don’t even realize that we were there. They remember the big umbrella…but many don’t remember that Canada was there as part of the coalition forces. They don’t recall the details and they don’t think about the men and women who served during that war,” he said.
Summers recalled the roles of HMCS Athabaskan and Terra Nova; ships that undertook the lion’s share of the dangerous escort missions through the heavily mined Strait of Hormuz. Nicknamed “Silkworm Alley” (after the silkworm missiles also used in the area), the Strait was one of the more dangerous theatres of the war.
“We saved a lot of lives,” said Summers. “We should be very proud.”
For Master Cpl. (ret’d) Harold Davis, it was an experience that will live with him for the rest of his life.
More about Canada and the Gulf War can be found at veterans.gc.ca.