Indigenous veteran reflects on personal ties to Vimy Ridge

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April 8, 2017 - 9:26am Updated: April 8, 2017 - 3:33pm
Canadian troops battle in France at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan
Canadian troops battle in France at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

As the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge approaches on Sunday, many in Saskatchewan will be doing their own personal reflecting of the monumental, bloody encounter that helped shape Canada as a nation while it was still in its infancy.

It's a battle Phillip Ledoux of the Mistawasis First Nation looks back on with particular respect and admiration. His uncle Charles Mususkapew was a sniper at Vimy Ridge, having joined the military in 1916.

"The native people were very adept snipers and message carriers because they were able to blend right in to the environment. They had that adaptability," he described.

Ledoux said his relative fought in the Battles of the Somme, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. While Mususkapew survived those battles, he was later killed in action on Aug. 9, 1918 by a German sniper as a result of the Battle of Amiens, according to Ledoux.

The family got a sense of Mususkapew's experiences through letters and a diary he wrote from the battlefield.

It's this, among other things, that will come to mind on April 9 for Ledoux. The Saskatchewan First Nation Veterans' Association sent a group over to France to visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial to pay respect to the indigenous veterans who served as scouts and snipers in the First World War.

Ledoux was originally supposed to be on that trip but, having visited France before, decided to give up his seat to somebody else who had never been there before.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience," he said. "You think of the people that were killed in action over there and buried over there. Those are the real heroes."

When he's there, Ledoux said he can't help but think of the sacrifice thousands of Canadian soldiers made during that fight, along with his own military experience. A veteran himself, he served six months in Cyprus in the mid-1960s on a United Nations peacekeeping mission, with a brief stop in Beirut, Lebanon, to guard a refugee cap.

"I can only picture the unimaginable because I myself am still handling PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and a lot of these issues triggers flashbacks that I have to deal with in my personal life and it's a struggle."

A century has passed since that defining battle in France. Ledoux wants a new generation to remember the price that was paid by Canadian troops in the name of freedom. As someone who has fought for this country, he said he’s not personally asking for sympathy, but instead an understanding from people of what kinds of sacrifices were made in war.