Remarks at the Starfighter Memorial Dedication
Trenton, Ontario, 19 June, 2008 by LGen (Ret’d) L.C. Campbell
By observing a minute of silence – as we have just done – we offer our collective homage to the memories of 37 outstanding Canadians who were killed while flying the CF-104 Starfighter in the service of Canada.
By dedicating this memorial – this truly magnificent memorial – we collectively seek to ensure that a permanent record exists of their sacrifices. That their names are kept alive even after we, their comrades in arms, have joined them in whatever may exist after this life on earth.
And by reuniting, as we do this morning and as we did yesterday, we reaffirm our commitment to one another and to the country we were all so proud to serve – in uniform and beyond – and to the joy we experienced flying the Starfighter.
As Doug Fenton noted in his remarks – with some chagrin, I sensed – the lack of formal recognition for those who died during the Cold War has been an ongoing issue for many. Thus, it is critically important that individual groups, such as ours, have taken steps to put in place permanent reminders of the sacrifices made by our comrades in arms. In my view, we should be collectively proud of our efforts in this regard and I heartily congratulate those most active in seeing the project through to fruition.
The lack of public recognition which Doug referred to strikes me, however, as being somewhat of an anomaly. Canadians have historically been quite generous in honouring their war dead, witness the hundreds of cenotaphs that adorn the central squares of almost every Canadian town or city. But, these monuments were built to honour soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed in ‘shooting wars’ … and since the Cold War was largely fought without a shot being fired, I suppose we shouldn’t be totally surprised that our losses didn’t resonate with Canadians at the time, at least in the same way as had losses in previous conflicts.
That said, the ‘times they are a changin’ and, in recent years, I’m happy to report, Canada has finally taken steps to rectify this situation by creating, in 2005, the “7th Book of Remembrance”.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Canada’s Books of Remembrance reside in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and contain the names of all Canadians who have died in the service of our country – starting with those lost in the South African War from 1899 to 1902 and continuing through the First and Second World Wars and Korea to the present.
The newest Book of Remembrance … the 7th Book … was created to address losses incurred by the Canadian Forces following WW II. Unlike the other volumes, which are complete, the 7th Book is ‘open ended’ with names added as casualties occur (in Afghanistan, for example). The 7th Book was officially unveiled in November 2005 and contains the names of more than 1600 Canadians who have died in service since October 1947 (except for Korea) many of whom were members of the Air Force. This number includes, of course, the names all 37 CF-104 pilots who were killed in service.
I expect at least some here today will have had the opportunity to personally visit the Memorial Chamber. For those who have not, I highly recommend it.
I would also recommend visiting the Veterans’ Affairs website and the section entitled “Canada Remembers”. In addition to links to pictures and descriptions of the Memorial Chamber and the various Books of Remembrance, the website contains a link to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial … a site which allows one to search for individual names, view the specific page in the Book of Remembrance that contains that name … even add information, photographs and so on to the records, to help keep the memories of loved ones and friends alive.
While I’ve suggested in my remarks that Canada ‘finally got it right’ by formally recognizing Cold War casualties, in the interests of full disclosure, I’d also have to point out that getting government approval for the new ‘Cold War’ Book of Remembrance was not easy. Indeed, it would not have happened without the hard work and agitation of a few committed airmen, perhaps most importantly Syd Burrows, a former Sabre pilot. Syd made the creation of this tribute his personal quest, writing dozens (perhaps hundreds) of eloquent letters to Veterans Affairs and others and continuously promoting the idea that Canada was remiss in not formally recognizing those who died from service-related causes during the Cold War.
Syd’s efforts, complemented by diligent staff work by the Air Staff and many, many hours of discussion at Armed Forces Council and elsewhere finally led to an agreement within the Canadian Forces and then the Government that this project made sense. And so, as I noted a moment ago, the 7th Book of Remembrance finally came into being in 2005. While the project was a long time in gestation, the results are truly positive and I strongly believe this initiative – in concert with monuments raised by organizations such as ours – will ensure our war dead are never forgotten.
In closing, I would like to offer special thanks to three groups who are represented here today.
First, I would like to thank the Air Force, as represented by Colonel Mike Hood, for its excellent support. From accommodations at the Yukon Lodge, to the excellent dinner last evening, to coordinating the forthcoming fly-pasts, Mike, your support and that of MGen Duval in Winnipeg – who approved the flypasts – has been crucial …and we, your guests, very much appreciate your efforts.
The second group I would like to mention are those who are here to day representing the National Air Force Museum, namely Chris Colton and Bob Burke. It is a truly outstanding facility – despite the construction ongoing – and I highly encourage those who have not had the chance to visit to do so while you’re here.
And, finally, I would like to specifically thank our families – and particularly the families of those who lost their lives flying the CF-104. For those of us who were aviators, the loss of a squadron-mate was a painful experience. But, as Doug so eloquently stated in his remarks, each of us who served knew death might be “just a little slip away” and we accepted this as being part of our chosen profession. When someone died, we grieved but then recommitted ourselves to our efforts and (as we used to say) ‘got back in the saddle’ again a day or two later and took up the fray.
For our families, the situation was, of course, much more difficult and traumatic. Not only had a wife or girlfriend lost her mate, in most cases a young family had lost a father, parents lost a son and siblings lost a brother. In the case of families posted in Europe, their lives were immediately affected by the need to relocate back to Canada, leaving friends, schoolmates and other supporters behind to take up a new life somewhere back home.
While I’m not sure there is any other way in which the authorities of the day could have dealt with the situation, I simply want all family members present today to know that we very much appreciated your support – and, for those directly impacted by tragedy – that we thought often about you and commended you on the bravery and independence you exhibited as you picked up stakes, supported your children and made a new life for your families from the ashes of the one which had so tragically been taken away.
I think most of us here would acknowledge that you – and I speak of each and every family member here today plus those who are not – were very important in our lives and in the lives of the 37 brave pilots whose memories we honour today. And so, while we take this time to pay homage to them and to dedicate this beautiful memorial as a lasting tribute to our collective service flying a wonderful aircraft, I expect they would be the first to ask that we also keep you, our families, clearly in our hearts and minds as well. May this memorial serve as a clear reminder of your bravery and spirit as well.