Janet Moje

The short textbook definition of Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed by the Commonwealth of Nations since the first World War to remember those who died in the line of duty. But it means more than that to Gene Blackman.

Gene Blackman in the UN Peacekeeping forces.
Gene Blackman in the UN Peacekeeping forces.

It is a time to remember all the men and women, those who died and those who survived, who have served this country not just in World War I and II, but also UN Peacekeepers. These people gave up their civilian lives, swore oaths, and committed their time and energy to do what was required of them for Canada.

Born on the train between Tete Jaune and McBride, Blackman joined the Armed Forces when he was 18. He was part of the Royal Canadian Electrician and Mechanical Engineers (REME) where he trained to provide equipment support.

He served from 1965-1970 when the Canadian Armed Forces were part of the UN peacekeeping force, and deployed worldwide as a neutral buffer between opposing forces. He served in Gaza, between Israel and Egypt, until the day before the 6-day war began, when his unit transferred out of the area.

“I used to be very involved in the community on Remembrance Day,” Blackman reflected, but says that in recent years he has been more laid back, partly due to his disappointment with the government.

“They dropped the ball when it comes to veterans,” he said, citing closures of Veteran Affairs offices, service cut backs, and the cracks veterans fall through between civilian and military programs.

Government officials serve our country, leaving service with full pensions and expense accounts yet veterans who serve our country for the same amount of time don’t leave with a full pension or even medical coverage.

Before he became Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for maintaining peace in the Suez Canal, and is considered a father of modern day peacekeeping. In 1988 the Nobel Peace Prize went to the United Nations peacekeeping forces for their decisive contribution to conflict resolution around the world. Blackman was proud to be a peacekeeper, and Canadians were good at it. He remembered his blue uniform and peacekeeping armband with a smile on his face. They were proud to wear them.

Drone Trial Unit 1969, forerunner of the cruise missile. Gene Blackman, front row, right side.
Drone Trial Unit 1969, forerunner of the cruise missile. Gene Blackman, front row, right side.

On Remembrance Day, Blackman’s mind and heart dwells on those he served with. He recalls that not all tragedy was during combat. Wegner Point:1968, during parachute training from Camp Petawawa in Ontario, three Buffalo transports were dispatched under ideal conditions that evening, but encountered a severe wind sheer that sent 22 of 26 men into the Ottawa River. Many were saved from the frigid water, but seven drowned before they could be rescued. Blackman was in the second plane, the maneuver cancelled just before it was their turn to jump.

Today, Canada enjoys a free society. We can practice any religion we wish, we are accepting of different cultures, we can say what we think and live our lives in peace.

“It isn’t perfect, I have my gripes,” says Blackman, “but I do appreciate it.”

On Remembrance Day, it is not just about remembering those who gave their lives so we can enjoy the freedom we have today, but it is about remembering all the men and women who served, who gave their time, their life, in order to preserve our way of life. All their combined efforts, their commitments to their future, built our now.

Let’s not just remember it, let’s cherish it.