LAWRENCETOWN - It hasn’t been a great year for George Grant, but he still calls himself a lucky man.
He went down in two boats on Sand Lake in 2017, miraculously surviving both times. He lost steering in his car two months ago and was trapped inside the vehicle, his hips pinned when the car crashed. But he lived.
Wife Maxine shakes here head. She thinks it’s enough for one year.
He walks with a cane now and this year he won’t be the parade commander at the Remembrance Day service in Lawrencetown.
“I can’t march anymore,” he said.
Things could be worse. They were back in 2008 when he ‘lost it’ and they called the paramedics. He calls it his breakdown. By the time the episode was over, it was pretty clear that all those atrocities he witnessed as a peacekeeper back in the Congo in 1962 and Cyprus in 1964 had come back to haunt him.
“That day it happened, I don’t remember that day at all. I don’t remember what happened,” he said. “Mackie (Maxine) was having a heck of a time with me, so anyway they had the ambulance here, they had the Mounties here. They had everybody here. Finally they took me to the hospital and I came around. Then they gave me a pill and that seemed to help. I still take those pills.”
He talks with a psychiatrist too. It helps and he recommends it.
He’s not afraid to talk about it.
“I went to Cyprus in 1964,” he said. He’s still living that six-month stint in his head. In dreams. When he’s awake.
“Seeing dead bodies, seeing babies. Who in hell in this world would think somebody would do that,” he asks, voice cracking as he recalls what he saw as a peacekeeper. “But they did it. We couldn’t do nothin’. What could we do?”
George was in Nicosia for those six months.
“Where they were having most of the battles was up in the mountains,” he said. “The Third Guards were there at that time and they were up in the mountains trying to keep the peace.”
He was with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps when he went over.
George was a seasoned soldier by the time he went to Cyprus. He was in the infantry from 1952 to 1955, spent a year in Egypt with the United Nations Emergency Force in 1958-59, and was a UN peacekeeper in the Congo for six months in 1962-63.
But seeing babies with their throats cut in Cyprus was something he couldn’t un-see. He couldn’t forget. The worst irony of all was that if he could forget what kind of a person would that make him?
He’d been a tough army veteran, retiring from the forces in 1980, with 28 years of service under his belt. Another 28 years thinking about it and he broke down.
It builds up, he said about PTSD.
And it wasn’t just Cyprus.
“I’d seen people hung in the Congo,” he said. “I had a rifle stuck in my head in the Congo. Just because you’re a soldier doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings. We still have feelings.”
He describes being stopped on a road in the Congo as he headed out to the airport to pick up a general.
“They wouldn’t have a road block,” he said. “As you’re coming up two guys would step out of the darkness. And of course you had to stop and back up. Haul out your UN card and holler ‘UN! UN!’ I had a submachine gun with me, 60 rounds, but it was laying in the other seat.”
Although he was a peacekeeper, he could have defended himself -- and he would have if he’d had the gun in his lap.
“Anybody can get PTSD,” he said, “you could get PTSD going to a lot of accidents, and seeing a lot of bad stuff. That’ll work on your mind.”
He digs out a recent edition of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Veteran’s Recognition Booklet and leafs through pointing out people he knows – or knew. Among those honoured in the book is former Veterans Affairs Minister Dan MacDonald. The names are in alphabetical order and turning to the letter G, there’s George Wesley Grant. Beside his picture it lists his service over his career, his medals and decorations, and even a US Navy unit commendation, Canadian Peacekeeping Medal, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation.
In June, 2017, George was inducted into the Village of Lawrencetown Wall of Honour.
The odds were good George would be a soldier. It ran in the family with his father and four uncles going to war. At 17 he signed up for Korea but by the time he was ready to ship out, it was all over.
When he left the service in 1980, George joined the legionnaires and later received a long service award from that organization. He was a scout leader, and finally in 2005 he joined the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 112 Lawrencetown where he’s been president for three years and service officer since he joined. And in those few short years he’s earned life membership.
Service officer is the person who helps other veterans with pension applications and other interactions with government. He’s helped dozens if not hundreds of fellow veterans navigate the rabbit warren of bureaucracy, raising some from destitution and making life better for all. He’s giving that up now.
George’s father – George Angus Grant, a soldier himself -- called George by the nickname Poppy when he was growing up. Why Poppy? George was born on Remembrance Day. He’ll be 83 on Nov. 11.