For veteran Ed Widenmaier, every day is Remembrance Day to him.
“Every day you see somebody in the military has done something really good …” he said during an interview in his Central Saanich home, surrounded by awards, photos and memorabilia from his long and successful career in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)
After a career spanning close to 22 years in the military, Widenmaier took the PNR back to some of his moments in Cyprus.
Widenmaier served in the infantry for the Queens Own Rifles and Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry. Although he didn’t serve in the Second World War, he did go to Germany for a couple years from 1961 to 1963.
At 17, he joined the Forces, but you had to be 18 to go overseas. So as soon as he was of age, he travelled to Europe and Germany.
“It was fun at 18 to see Europe, Paris …” he said.
He later went to Cyprus from Victoria in 1965 in a peacekeeping role.
Widenmaier was chosen as their unit was the second group to be going over to relieve Canadian guards and Van Doos (22nd Regiment, based in Quebec) that were there already.
“Peacekeeping was just sort of introduced to Canada’s forces then,” he said.
Their job, he said, was to keep the Greek Cypriotes and the Turkey Cypriotes away from each other.
Widenmaier recalled a few moments of his overall service.
“The experience, first of all, to go to different countries, see the world, work with some lovely people — because remember, Canadian soldiers they don’t hate the enemy in front of them to shoot ‘em but they sure love the people behind them …”
The highlight in Cyprus, other than a couple short war stories, came when he got the call to go back again to be part of the contingent recognizing Canada’s 50 years of peacekeeping there — and to bid farewell to the Cypriots.
“We had a contingency of about 30 of us going up and down these muddy roads and going to battlefields and boneyards and stuff like that,” he said, adding there are 18 Canadians buried there.
At the time of his return, Widenmaier and others were followed by quite a few news reporters.
“The only thing that I was bugged about by a particular news reporter … and he asked a question that you normally never ask any soldier, anywhere during any war. And he said ‘what did you kill?’ He didn’t say who, he said ‘what?’”
And so Widenmaier held up three fingers.
“I said ‘number one,’ … ‘the first time over here in 1965 … I killed lizards … I killed hundreds of lizards …’” he said, referring to his trip to Cyprus.
Other reporters began to giggle, but Widenmaier continued on. He said he knew he was going over again to Cyprus in 1980, a seven-month stint with nothing to play with, so he took one of his accordions and learned to play a couple of songs.
“So I said what I killed was boredom,” he said with a smile.
His third answer dates back to his days in Germany when he lost an eardrum during the firing of a big 106 gun.
“You’re only supposed to fire one at a time on the range. We had eight guns lined up and the officer in charge said ‘when I drop the flag everybody fire ‘em all at once,’” said Widenmaier.
And when they went off, he said, he went off with his eardrum busted.
So the third thing that Widenmaier killed, took place when he was standing on a street corner in a town called Bogaz.
“And we used to block the road with a rifle and a bayonet, block everybody from getting through the intersections so this convoy could go twice a day through the whole island of Cyprus to get over to the other side …” he said.
Widenmaier couldn’t hear a thing, as they didn’t have hearing aids in those days. The Greek Cyrpiots, he said, had a tendency to get as close as they could with their vehicle, irritated at the soldiers for blocking their road.
“But he had the crank hanging out of the tractor and the thing got too close to me … hit the back calf muscle and I instinctively turned around and drove the bayonet through the radiator of the tractor, which I killed — the tractor.”
And those were the three.
“Canada had the best trained troops to do that kind of job and they did a wonderful job. Everywhere from Haiti to Somalia to whatever country was in a conflict, they would always ask for Canadians’ help,” said Widenmaier.
He attended the House of Parliament as one of 10 veterans who belonged to the Peacekeeping Association — out of the 25,000 that went over to Cyprus. He received a special coin from then Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Of all the medals, the one most important to him is the Veteran’s Affairs Commendation, which is for doing things like helping veterans.
Now retired, Widenmaier is involved in the Central Saanich community — from leading Remembrance Day ceremonies, to working towards a new community cenotaph.