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    Dennis Stow (on left) has organized the Fallen Paratrooper Memorial Service for the past nine years. This year, he also unveiled a memorial boulder next to the cairn. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    A volley was fired as the names of each of the fallen was read. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    Garrison Petawawa Deputy Commander Lieutenant Colonel Richard Raymond and Chief Warrant Officer Tom Verner, Garrison Petawawa Chief Warrant Officer, placed a wreath at the foot of the Wegner Point memorial cairn in honour of those who perished when a parachute drop went tragically wrong 50 years ago. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    Daughters of Corporal Bob Knight - Patricia, Sue, Catherine and Christine, attended the 50th memorial of Wegner Point. Patricia shared some of her stories with the crowd. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)


 

 


Wegner Point’s seven fallen honoured at annual memorial service

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday May 17, 2018


On a cold, windy day fifty years ago, 26 paratroopers exited their aircraft with the intent of landing on the Mattawa Plains. Instead, 22 of them plunged into the Ottawa River near Wegner Point.

They struggled to make it out of the water, weighted down by heavy equipment, tangled in their parachutes and fighting against the frigid current. Despite the best efforts of those who tried to rescue them, seven lost their lives on May 8, 1968. It remains the worst peacetime training accident in Canadian military history.

Friends, family members, survivors, former and current members of 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1 RCR), 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signal Squadron, as well as representatives from Garrison Petawawa, the Airborne Regiment Association of Canada, and the Canadian Airborne Forces Association were among those gathered on May 13 at Wegner Point to remember these men and the impact of their loss.

“The death of these men has changed so much of what we understand ourselves to be today,” said Padre Honourary Colonel Mark Sargent.

“The impact it left on us is enormous,” he added. “The first thing that it did was leave a space, a void, someone was missing.”

As their names were read, shots rang out for each of the brave soldiers who perished so long ago. Master Warrant Officer Reginald Riddell, Warrant Officer Michael McDonnell, Corporal (Cpl) Bruce Chiswell, Cpl Hugh Fields, Cpl Bob Knight, Cpl Dennis Clements, and Cpl Jim Misener had served with 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and 2 Signal Squadron, and their names are etched on a memorial cairn at Wegner Point. Each year, wreaths are laid at the foot of this monument to honour their sacrifice.

On the 50th anniversary of the tragic accident, many of the family members of the fallen came out to participate, including Cpl Knight’s daughters Patricia, Suzanne, Catherine and Christine, who shared their stories with those in attendance.

“These soldiers left behind people who love them,” said Patricia. “Parents, wives, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, close friends and even children.”

To get closer to their late father, the four sisters listened to as many stories about him as they could, and read as many articles on the incident as possible. Yet it wasn’t until 2012 that the magnitude of the incident was put into perspective for Patricia. While visiting a museum, she saw a display of a single helmet with an accompanying write up explaining that it was one of two pulled out of the water in 2005.

“We realized then that these men were brothers,” she said. “Not by blood, but much closer and that is why this memorial is so important.”

It is a difficult day for the survivors as well as for the family members of the fallen. But the ceremony keeps their memory alive and serves as a reminder of how quickly things can go so terribly wrong.

Cpl Chiswell’s last words to his daughter Kim Guest were “Happy Birthday.” He never came back to celebrate with his young daughter, leaving behind a grieving widow and confused children.

“No one understood, especially us,” said Guest. “This was our challenge: a father we couldn’t say goodbye to and a mother who was lost in her grief.”

Treena Lemay, the widow of Gilbert Lemay who was a survivor, had turned 21 years old just two weeks before the accident. Earlier that day, she and a friend had been paying off a bet by making dinner for some of her 2 Signal Squadron friends.

Not all of them came back.

“We will never know why bad things happen,” said Lemay, “and if we stay focused on an impossible-to-answer question, we can never move on to what we should do next.

“Of course we should learn the lessons that tragedy teaches us and make changes where possible to prevent reoccurrences, but I believe that a really positive way to remember these seven paratroopers is that they lived and proudly served their regiments and their country,” Lemay added.

She believes that this annual memorial is one of the best ways to remember them.

Also invited to speak were Renfrew-Nipssing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant and MPP John Yakabuski. Both shared their sincere condolences.

Garrison Petawawa Deputy Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Raymond took to the podium to pay his respects to the seven fallen and point out how important it is, to not only have memorials such as this, but to share stories with one another.

As part of this year’s service, a large inscribed boulder was also installed next to the cairn, which was unveiled right after a fly-past by a Hercules aircraft.

“As we reflect on the event that changed the lives of so many people, this boulder ... is not only to recognize this day but to remind future generations to reflect, reconnect and never forget,” said Dennis Stow, who has organized the memorial service for the past nine years.

The large stone, inscribed with the names of the seven paratroopers, was paid for through donations from family, survivors, fellow jumpers and friends.