At the Going Down of the Sun

Yesterday, August 9, was National Peacekeepers’ Day.

Cenotaph Guard retiring

The citizens of Saskatoon honoured the occasion with a memorial service at the cenotaph outside of City Hall. The gathering was small. Several dozen veterans and active service members mingled in the warm evening air, squinting into the still-bright setting sun, before taking their seats at seven o’clock. Another dozen or so seats were occupied by civilians: family members, friends, government representatives.

The service was straightforward, following the familiar program of Remembrance Day. The colours were marched on, O Canada was sung, and a prayer was presented by a Canadian Forces chaplain. The speeches were brief.

And throughout the cenotaph guard stood in motionless vigil, their rifles reversed – barrel down – heads bowed.

Thirty-six years ago, on 9 August 1974, a Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo transport aircraft – painted white and bearing United Nations markings – was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles as it began its scheduled approach to Damascus. All five crew members and four passengers – all Canadian, and all peacekeepers – were killed.

This is an incident mostly forgotten. But on this warm Saskatoon evening we are remembering. Wreaths are laid at the base of the cenotaphs. I’m privileged enough to lay one myself.

The sun is falling quickly, now, and the shadows have crept across the plaza, lapping at the feet of the guard.

From a trumpet erupts the Last Post. A mournful lament escapes from bagpipes. A verse of God Save The Queen is sung and the colours retire.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

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