Three veterans remember Bosnia
By Édouard Dufour, Adsum
After the breakup of Yugoslavia 25 years ago, Canada deployed thousands of troops to Bosnia under the United Nations (UN) banner. That part of the world at that time was torn apart by fighting between groups of belligerents, and the civilian population was subjected to violent human rights abuses. Three veterans who all served their country in that pivotal conflict recount their experience.
Sergeant (Retired) Pierre Lalonde, a veteran of the Royal 22e Régiment (R22eR), started out in 1992 serving with the first Canadians sent to Bosnia. He went back in 2002 on a second deployment. As section commander during his first mission to Bosnia, he contributed to the defence of the Sarajevo airport, a strategically crucial objective for the UN forces.
During that first deployment, Sgt Lalonde conducted several patrols in Bosnian villages. He explains that when they arrived there was still a lot of active fighting going on between the different factions.
“Sometimes I got the order to go to certain places. If those orders hadn’t been changed at the last minute, I probably wouldn’t have come back. At night, when we were in our trenches, we saw bombs falling on our trucks behind us,” Sgt (Ret) Lalonde confides.
In March 1993, Chief Warrant Officer Camil Samson, now retired, and his colleagues from A Company 2 R22eR, headed to Visoko, Bosnia. “Our convoy went through villages that were in flames. It was total anarchy,” he explains. Immediately upon his arrival in Visoko, the order to deploy was given to Major (ret) Pierre Lessard, who was CWO (ret) Samson’s company commander.
The next day, at dawn, A Company headed to Srebrenica, a town nestled between two mountain ranges. At that time, it had a civilian Muslim population of 40 000. The UN defence posts for Srebrenica were located at various strategic points in the mountains, whereas the command cell had been set up in an abandoned factory located in the town centre.
There was regular bombing and shelling around UN troops located in Srebrenica. “After a month and a half, the padre was asked to meet with the troops,” Camil Samson recounts. “He set up a makeshift altar using a table and a white tablecloth. The soldiers sat on improvised pews. Just as the padre was starting to say mass, the shelling started nearby. He hit the ground, but the soldiers barely reacted. They explained to him that the shelling was now just a part of their everyday routine.”
Veterans Pierre Lalonde, Camil Samson and André Archambeault are all members of the Royal 22e Régiment Association. Every year, they get together for a variety of activities. And on Wednesday mornings, they meet “to have a coffee, chat and solve the world’s problems!”
The three veterans agree that these meetings are also a chance for them to check in with each other and find out how everyone is doing. “Even in retirement, if someone needs something, we’re going to help them. We’re a very close-knit group!” Camil Samson says with a smile.
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