Author Derrick Nearing. Submitted photo.
Derrick Nearing's most recent book: Walking Them Home: A Soldier’s Journey in Postwar Rwanda. Submitted photo.
Walking Them Home: A Soldier’s Journey in Postwar Rwanda
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday March 11, 2021
The horrors of the war in Rwanda have forever coloured the lives of the Canadian Armed Forces members tasked with safely returning the refugees of the Interahamwe genocide home.
Retired Petty Officer (PO) Derrick Nearing was a Leading Seamen and military medic in 1994 when he landed in the country.
Like many others who were on that mission and witnessed the horrific aftermath of a genocide that saw 40 per cent of the country’s people murdered or displaced, he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, a nightmare that followed him throughout his multi-decade career even as he toured through Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia.
He recapped his journey and started the healing process after writing a book about the events that transpired. Entitled Walking them Home - A Soldier’s Journey in Postwar Rwanda, the book is part journal on the atrocities he witnessed and part his coming to terms with what transpired.
It is a vivid and emotional account; the journal portion is raw, visceral, and details a young man’s reactions to coming face to face with the unspeakable. With the revisions and the commentary he added, he brings wisdom to the situations and the realities of that part of Africa.
He was hoping to tour Military Family Resource Centres (MFRC) across the country to share his book and his experiences with military members and their families, but those plans were put on hold until pandemic restrictions are lifted.
“The goal is more for me to connect to people and to help get better and to a healthy place,” said Nearing. “My book is all about healing.”
He admits the book doesn’t reflect everyone’s experiences in Africa; it is an accurate portrayal of his personal journey. Though he did see the horrors, he also witnessed some incredible acts of kindness.
“Things were done for the good of everyone,” he said about the Engineers who built incubators and Padres going above and beyond their job description to help where they can. “I hope I documented those good acts, too.”
A lot of the soldiers who were sent to Rwanda were young, barely out of high school. That helped forge a bond between them that is still alive today.
“We became each others brothers and sisters,” Nearing said.
He recommends that military personnel who deploy keep a journal when they can while overseas. In his opinion, it will not only allow them to keep good memories alive but also help them work on any traumatic experiences they may have.
By waiting several years and then revisiting the bad memories with an open mind, Nearing has put distance between the pain he felt. And though he still has some issues, he has dealt with them in a healthy way.
He even wants to return to Rwanda one day as a tourist to see the positive changes that were seeded, in part, due to Canadian military involvement.
“I look at it now and the place is vibrant,” said Nearing. “There are hundreds of new houses and buildings that were built.”
He had a realization that helped him further heal. The people from Rwanda have moved on, rebuilt, and the images of the war-torn, starving masses is no longer the case. He had a mental picture of the country in its worst time that he’s only recently been able to shake.
“That’s why the PTSD and depression sticks with the guys,” said Nearing. “They see the old picture.”
The book he wrote may show the old picture of Rwanda, but he made sure to include what the country looks like now, how things have changed.
“They’ve given themselves the opportunity to heal, and so should we for ourselves,” said Nearing. “We should heal.”
His book, as well as others he has written, can be found on Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and on his website www.derricknearing.com.