Canada was part of America’s Vietnam War. Not officially, but in providing men for it and harbouring them from it. Anyone alive in the 1970s probably has had their life affected in some way by that contentious and long-lasting war. But on November 11th in Canada, we rarely think of them – the living or the dead.
Many Canadians enlisted in the US military and went to Vietnam. Estimates vary from the hundreds to many thousands. Some were dual citizens subject to the US draft. Others were Canadians resident in the USA and therefore subject to the draft. And yet others went from Canada to the US and volunteered for service.
The exact numbers are difficult to figure out due to record keeping and neither country really claiming them as their own. Sometimes a Canadian address is listed as home on enlistment forms, other times a US city where they lived or maybe where they crossed the border.
The names of those killed or missing in action are engraved on Vietnam War Veterans memorials in Canada. Those names are not on official cenotaphs because theirs was not a Canadian war. But they are still casualties. So their fellow Vietnam veterans built their own war memorials. There are at least three: a travelling memorial wall based in Winnipeg MB, and memorials in Windsor ON and Melocheville QC. Their names are also on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Many Canadian veterans of Vietnam came back to the US and remained there. Others returned to Canada. Vietnam vets in the USA arrived home to hostility from many. Those returning to Canada? The reaction was largely ‘huh?” A total lack of awareness of what they were doing there, let alone what they’d survived. And some hostility, from those opposed to the war and from officialdom.
When they returned – if they did – neither Canada nor the USA extended veterans benefits to them. The US government finally did in 1988. But they didn’t advertise the fact widely, so many Canadian veterans in both countries did not realize they were eligible.
The Royal Canadian Legion refused them membership. The legion changed that policy only in 1994. They are not eligible for benefits from the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs. In both cases, it is because they did not serve under the Canadian flag.
In Legion magazine, a US Army paratrooper from Winnipeg, Ron Parkes, talked about the isolation he felt: “I just put my service away and didn’t talk about it for about 20 years.”
Canadian Vietnam vets suffered the same losses, injuries and trauma as their American comrades. But they did so alone, with little community or government support. They did not fight for Canada, but they still fought. Many lost their lives. And that we should not forget.
In-country or get out of country
“The worst of ours are going north, and the best of theirs are coming south.”– Unknown Marine (from NDQSA)
“Starting in 1965, Canada became a choice haven for American draft-dodgers and deserters… making up the largest, best-educated group [of immigrants] this country had ever received.”– Citizenship and Immigration Canada, removed 2009 (from CTV)
- See my War and Peaceniks for more.