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    A Vigil Party stands around the memorial at Wegner Point. It will be moved over the next year near to the Afganistan Memorial Forest. (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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    Glen Wagner played the trumpet, leading the ceremony with the Last Post. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    In honour of his father Corporal Hugh Fields, Stephen Fields walks up to the memorial cairn to place a wreath at its foot. He has done so nearly every year, barring the few that he was deployed. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

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    Acting Garrison Petawawa Commander Lieutenant Colonel Joe Hartson and Garrison Petawawa Chief Warrant Officer CWO Tom Verner paid their respects on May 5. (Photos by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)


 

 


Wegner Point tragedy commemorated 51 years later

By Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post

Posted on Thursday May 16, 2019


It was supposed to be a routine exercise on May 8, 1968 and no one could have predicted the devastating consequences when 26 paratroopers jumped out of a Buffalo aircraft, intent on landing on the Mattawa Plains.

Severe wind conditions that night blew them off course and most landed in the Ottawa River. Weighted down by heavy gear and tangled parachutes, they struggled to make it to shore. Not all of them did, and seven lost their lives despite the efforts of rescuers.

The ultimate sacrifice paid during that training exercise is still honoured and remembered 51 years later.

On May 5, family members, loved ones, friends and representatives from 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1 RCR), 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signal Squadron (2 CMBG Hq and Sigs), Garrison Petawawa, local cadets, Airborne Regiment Association of Canada, and the Canadian Airborne Forces Association as well as others, gathered at the Wegner Point Memorial Cairn.

The names of the fallen were read aloud:  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.

“Not only were these soldiers in the service of their country, but they were husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, friends and neighbours,” said Petawawa Councillor James Carmody. “They were valued members of the community. “

Mourners laid wreaths, paying tribute to these brave men. The ceremony also included prayers and scripture readings, and the Last Post was played, followed by the traditional moment of silence and the Lament on bagpipes.

This memorial service has been organized for many years by Airborne veteran Dennis Stow, who wishes to keep the memory of these fallen men alive. As the decades pass, more and more of the survivors are unable to attend due to health reasons or having passed on themselves.

“As you can see, we are getting down in numbers,” said Stow, as a wreath was laid in their honour.

Brigadier General (Retired) Kevin O’Keefe spoke to the crowd, reiterating the importance that these soldiers are remembered and celebrated.

Ceremonies like this one, he noted, are integral to ensure that their contribution and service to Canada are never forgotten.

“It is a really, really important thing that we do and I am glad to see the legacy of the seven gallant soldiers who passed and perished during this jump will be recognized into the future,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Acting Garrison Petawawa Commander Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Joe Hartson.

“Why do we do this?” he said. “We do it because we always have a connection. Connection to the family, connection to the community and we honour that sacrifice.

That sacrifice a person has given to his community, to his family, to his country”

The ceremony marked the last that will be held at Wegner Point. To protect operational security of the area, the cairn will be moved to the Afganistan Memorial Forest for future services.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but ultimately it will allow for easier access for the community.

“Together we have ensured that these seven men will never be forgotten,” said Stow.

This is reassuring to Stephen Fields, the son of Cpl Fields. He has attended every ceremony, barring those when he himself was deployed.

He understands why the cairn has to be moved, though admits to some sadness.

“It will be interesting to see how the base deals with it in the next coming years,” said Fields. “Hopefully it still holds its remembrance and glory.”