Vietnam Veterans of America  
  The VVA Veteran® Online  
  homepipeAboutpipeArchivepipeSubscribepipeContactpipevva.orgVVA gifFacebookContact    
January/February 2022 -   -  

Daniel Cunningham’s Vietnam experience will sound familiar in many ways except one. Having finished high school in 1966, he went to college to become an engineering technician but flunked out after one semester. He landed a job as an apprentice electrician but started hanging out with biker gangs and partying pretty heavily. Then the girlfriend he planned to marry dumped him, and later, his best friend got killed during a wild ride on his Harley Davidson Sportster.

“Being a distraught teenager, overwhelmed with life, I could not see any reason to go on trying to make it in life as it appeared before me,” Cunningham said.

The Vietnam War had been on his mind since high school days. In fact, had it not been for thinking he’d get married and listening to people criticize the war and others trying to dissuade him from going to Vietnam, he would have volunteered shortly after graduation. The thought of stopping the spread of communism appealed to him, as did the excitement of going to battle.

Daniel Cunningham joined the U.S. Marine Corps. After training at Camp Lejeune, he found himself carrying an M-79 grenade launcher in I Corps with Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. The year was 1969. He was soon on intimate terms with combat.

Coming home was the usual story: no warm welcomes, no one wanting much to do with him, and certainly no “Thank you for your service.”

All told, a usual story indeed, except for the fact that Cunningham was not an American citizen. He was Canadian, and his country, despite entreaties by the U.S. government, did not send troops to Vietnam. While it was slow in coming, the U.S. government gradually began to recognize and offer assistance to its Vietnam veterans; whereas, to this day the Canadian government continues to deny recognition of its citizens who, like Cunningham, volunteered to fight in Vietnam for a country he considered an ally.

To See the World

There is no official tally of how many Canadians came south to join the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War, but over time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and others have cited estimates ranging from 20,000 to as many as 40,000. More recent estimates edge closer to 40,000. Whatever the total, the overwhelming majority served in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the rest in the Air Force and Navy. Nearly 150 Canadians lost their lives in the war, though the actual number could well be higher since some Canadians were already living in the U.S. for one reason or another and could have been inducted as American citizens.

Many were motivated to volunteer for reasons like Cunningham’s and those of countless Americans. “It was a sense of adventure and the desire to serve in the military,” said Alexander Kandic, a Marine Corps veteran from Montreal. “However, at the time, our Canadian military was not very active on the international level, and as a young man I wanted to travel and see the world.” There was also the Cold War. “So, when we heard about Vietnam,” Kandic said, “and the potential spread of communism, this was a big motivating factor.”

Since there was no official mobilization and no organized popular movement of Canadians to join the U.S. military, few realized at the time how many of their fellow countrymen were also volunteering and serving in Vietnam. Small groups of friends, usually high school buddies, joined up and volunteered together, but they weren’t always assigned to the same units in Vietnam. And sometimes they joined different services.

“As for Canadians I met during my tour, I can remember only one other guy,” Cunningham said. “I think it was when I was stationed at Hai Van Pass, waiting for orders to go somewhere where there was fighting. Someone told me that there was another Canadian there.”

Canadians earned their share of decorations and awards during the war, including at least one Medal of Honor, which went to Army Spec.4 Peter Lemon, born in Toronto but now an American citizen. On April 1, 1970, serving with Company E (Recon) in the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division in Tay Ninh Province, Lemon “distinguished himself as an assistant machine gunner during the defense of Fire Support Base Illingworth,” his MOH Citation reads. “When the base came under heavy enemy attack, Sgt. Lemon engaged a numerically superior enemy with machine-gun and rifle fire from his defensive position until both weapons malfunctioned. He then used hand grenades to fend off the intensified enemy attack launched in his direction. After eliminating all but one of the enemy soldiers in the immediate vicinity, he pursued and disposed of the remaining soldier in hand-to-hand combat.”

Ontario-born Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon,
U.S. Army Photo

That’s just the beginning of the long citation of his actions. It also notes that Lemon was wounded three times and refused medical attention to keep helping his comrades.

Unwelcoming Homecoming

For the most part, the return home to Canada was an isolating, alienating affair just like their American counterparts experienced. Canadian veterans walked into a wall of public indifference (if not worse), and the Canadian government had nothing to say, much less offer. Many veterans felt like they had been either the only one or a just a handful of fellow citizens who fought for the U.S. in Vietnam.

“For many years after the Vietnam War was over, we hardly knew here in Canada how many Canadians had enlisted and served in Vietnam,” said Kandic. “Then slowly but surely, we began to attend military ceremonies and other similar events, and we noticed other veterans wearing U.S. military awards and decorations. So, with time, we sort of came out of hiding and tried to meet and talk with other Vietnam veterans from Canada. This took a long time since, after the Vietnam War was over, we continued to be very unwelcome.”

The Royal Canadian Legion—the country’s largest veterans service and support organization, founded in 1925—refused Canadian Vietnam veterans membership. “They did not even wish to have us enter their Legion Halls or participate in any of their official military ceremonies,” Kandic said. According to Honor and Remember, a documentary made about Canadian Vietnam veterans, some members of the RCL referred to them as “mercenaries”; some even called them “traitors.” That changed in 1994, when the RCL officially recognized Canadian veterans of the Vietnam War and offered them membership.

But the Canadian federal government has refused to recognize its citizens who fought in Vietnam on the grounds that Canada was neutral (though the country did sell war materiel to the U.S.). Canadian veterans have been excluded from official events and ceremonies for Remembrance Day, Canada’s version of Veterans Day. Canadian Vietnam veterans are not entitled to benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada, but, as veterans of the U.S. military, they can get help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unfortunately, few Canadians were ever told about their eligibility, and it was years before any Canadian Vietnam veterans applied for VA benefits. Benefits started to flow only after two Canadian veterans lobbied Congress in the mid-1980s to get a bill passed that would provide benefits to non-citizens who served in the American military.

The Canadian government’s effective denial of its Vietnam veterans is a still a sore point, said Joseph Petraglia, an American living near Montreal for the better part of four decades and a U.S. Army veteran of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Petraglia said he met one or two Canadians during his 1969-70 tour in Vietnam, but didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until he moved to Canada that he gradually began to meet Canadian Vietnam veterans in the 1980s and the close-knit community they eventually formed. They welcomed him in.

But even today, Petraglia said, “they don’t like to talk about their Vietnam experiences. Canadian people as a whole, they look at the Vietnam veterans now and they respect them. The Canadian government still does not respect them in the same way, and that’s the problem.”

In 1986, following a reunion in Washington, D.C., of Canadian Vietnam veterans, a few of them formed the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association for many of the same reasons VVA was formed in 1978—because of the general disregard for who they were, what they’d gone through, what they needed, and also to try to break the silence. One of the founders of CVVA had not spoken to another Vietnam veteran since his discharge 16 years earlier. The organization still exists, but as members have aged and died, it isn’t as active as it once was.

The Canadian Vetnam Veterans Memorial in Windsor,Ontario. Photo: CC: mikerussell
at en.wikipedia

Two memorials to Canadian Vietnam veterans—one in Windsor, Ontario, and the other in Melocheville, Quebec—have been built with private money. The Windsor memorial, the fundraising for which was launched by American veterans, is known as the “North Wall,” a memorial that contains the names of Canadians who died in the war, in the same vein as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., but much smaller. At last count, 147 names were on it.

Despite the poor treatment they received upon returning home, many Canadian Vietnam veterans have no regrets—except, perhaps, for Daniel Cunningham, who said, “If I could go back to 1966, I would stay with my plan and not have been thrown off by other people’s ideas of what I should do. So, I would have presumably been in Vietnam in 1967. A lot different than in 1969.”

William Triplett has been reporting and writing for The VVA Veteran since 1986. He has covered a wide range of subjects, including narrative accounts of the battles of the A Shau Valley and the Ia Drang Valley.

Getting Casket Flags to Canada through
a Cross-Border Veterans Network

Last year, Canadian Vietnam Veterans Quebec Association member Alexander Kandic discovered a problem. His organization’s supply of American casket flags for families of veterans who requested them for funeral honors was running low and not replenishing.

“Prior to this COVID pandemic,” he said, “we usually had a few casket flags on hand for rapid use. When we participated in funeral honors, we would bring a special U.S. form, have the family sign it, and then when one of our veterans went down to the United States, they would visit a U.S post office and bring this form to obtain a replacement casket flag. This worked well until the pandemic and the U.S.-Canada border was closed to non-essential land travel.”

The unpredictable frequency of requests to participate in funeral honors requires CVVQA to have enough flags ready to deal with a sudden demand from local veterans communities. With the borders closed, the group needed a new strategy.

CVVQA had collaborated with other veterans’ organizations with meetings and events. In doing so, the group had built connections with veterans on both sides of the border. Those connections inspired Kandic to contact VVA Region 1 Director Skip Hochreich for help. Hochreich readily agreed, and after starting a fund to accept donations, both Hochreich and Kandic were surprised at how quickly contributions started coming in. In addition to setting up the fundraising mechanics, Hochreich also took care of purchasing and shipping the flags to the border.

“Our initial goal was simply to obtain a few casket flags as a temporary measure,” Kandic said. “However, there seemed to be great interest and support for us Canadian Vietnam War veterans and, before we knew it, VVA and other donors had raised funds and purchased approximately twenty U.S. casket flags.”

When the trucking company took the flags to the border, however, there were logistical roadblocks: COVID-19 safety restrictions and the imposition of taxes on the imported flags. But, once more, the U.S.-Canadian veterans network came through.

CVVQA member Richard Legault had a contact at a lumber mill near the border in Quebec. The mill arranged for a customer on the way from the U.S. to buy lumber to bring the casket flags with him in the cab of his truck, but only a few at the time. There seemed to be some delays at first, but then all the casket flags obtained by VVA made it to Quebec.

“We began to distribute these casket flags amongst the Canadian Vietnam veterans we know here in the Province of Quebec,” Kandic said. “So when the need for funeral flags would arise, we could easily reach one of our veterans. Both Richard Legault and I have several on hand.

“We all are very thankful for the efforts and the donations to purchase these flags. We have so far used only one, and we hope that we do not have to use too many in the near future. Yet the need will arise because these are for any U.S. military veteran being buried in Canada.”

Kandic said that QVVQA now has more than enough flags to cover contingency plans. “We might get a call from the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate to see if we can provide flags for veterans’ funeral honors,” he said.




-January/February 2022November/December 2021September/October 2021July/August 2021May/June 2021March/April 2021January/February 2021November/December 2020September/October 2020July/August 2020May/June 2020March/April 2020January/February 2020November/December 2019September/October 2019July/August 2019May/June 2019March/April 2019
2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016
| 2014 | 2013 | 2012
| 2010 | 2009 | 2008
| 2006 | 2005 | 2004
| 2002 | 2001 | 2000

----Find us on Facebook-Online Only:Arts of War on the Web
Book in Brief-

Basic Training Photo Gallery
Basic Training Photo Gallery
2013 & 2014 APEX® Award Winner

    Departments     University of Florida Smathers Libraries  
  - -      
  VVA logoThe VVA Veteran® is a publication of Vietnam Veterans of America. ©All rights reserved.
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910 | www.vva.org | contact us


Geoffrey Clifford Mark F. Erickson Chuck Forsman