Anishinaabe warrior who died serving in Vietnam recalled on Memorial Day

Lyman Corbiere retells the story of his uncle Austin Morris Corbiere

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Fifty years ago a Vietnam veteran was killed in action. He died May 9, 1966 in Quang Nam, Vietnam. This following story is written by his nephew Lyman Corbiere.

The late Austin Morris  Corbiere in uniform.
The late Austin Morris
Corbiere in uniform.

To the Expositor:

Austin Morris Corbiere was born on February 19, 1943 to mother Josephine (nee Kagesheongai) who was married to Frank Kewakundo. Frank was a travelling preacher who went place to place preaching the word, and having children. He had two daughters, Donna Bruder and Mary Lou Debassige and sons Steve and Austin Corbiere

The story goes that Austin arrived in this world to begin his journey.

When he was about 10-years-old he came to live with my family, we were living in Gore Bay near Tobacco Lake in a two-bedroom tar paper shack with 11 children. My parents were Phillip Corbiere (father) and Dorothy Corbiere (mother). Times were hard back then with no running water, an outside toilet and no bath tubs and in those times there was no welfare. We found work where we could, mostly helping farmers or working in the bush cutting firewood and plywood for the Ontario Paper Co., but we did alright. With all these people stuck in a small little space of a shack on a hot August night you can only imagine the smell, no thank you.

As Austin grew to about the age of 13 he went to work for a farmer, John Long on Barrie Island, and after that went to work for a mini Walmart in Gordon Township. For Lloyd Noble, who had a store that sold it all, from gas, groceries, and burgers to meat, feed, and hardware. Lloyd was the “Walmart” of the day and was also a very fine gentlemen who would give you the shirt off his back. I began working for him around 10 years of age and even stayed in his house. Lloyd was like a father to me and I will never forget him till the day I die, may God bless Lloyd Noble who helped many people through the years, including his wife Ruby who was a very nice and kind woman.

After this time Austin went to work in the southern Ontario around the Niagara region, the fruit belt, picking fruits and vegetables for $6 a day. My brother would also come follow me as we would help the harvest. After the fruit season would end we would head to Brantford to pick and prime tobacco (which was a very hard, dirty, and backbreaking job). After this season would end we would head back to West Bay again to find any work we could find working in the bush. We would mostly cut pulp wood. This was a cycled process repeated year after year for five years in southern Ontario and home again leaving no real time for Austin to go to school.

Then one year they were working in the bush in Meldrum Bay and Austin and my brother Jim Corbiere decided to head to Trout Lake, Michigan to work for two uncles who were working in the woods offering better pay. When Austin and Jim decided to go to Michigan it was on foot across the ice from Meldrum Bay to Blind River, which was quite dangerous since they hit open ice and had to detour a long ways around to avoid open water in the moonlight. However, they made it to Blind River and then to Michigan then finally arrived in Trout Lake. They worked there for a little while and heard that they needed marines in the USA to fight in Vietnam and the thought of travelling the world excited them. They headed there from Michigan to Buffalo, NY where they were recruited for the USMC where Austin was accepted and Jim rejected due to a broken collar bone. Austin then set off on his journey to the Lejeune, North Carolina Marine Corps basecamp were he went to train. By this time, in 1963, after still working on fruit farms of the Niagara region and heading back to Brantford to work, I stayed there and worked at the Spalding (sports goods) plant. Austin was now in the Vietnam War and whenever he had leave he would come stay with me in my one bedroom apartment in Brantford.

Then, after his second tour of Vietnam, he called me to see about staying with me in 1965. He came and stayed with me for one week in my cramped apartment before heading back to camp Lejeune and then back to Vietnam for his third tour and I never saw him again.

That tour is when he got killed on May 9, 1966 in Quang Nam, by this time I had moved back to Manitoulin Island to live in late November 1965. In May we were contacted by the USMC to inform us that he was K.I.A. (killed in action) and would be shipped home to us via Hawaii and California. He was sent to Lejeune camp to be prepped and then to Buffalo, NY. Finally, Doug Tracy picked up his body and brought it home after three months from the time he was K.I.A. After all that he was still displayed at the funeral home in a glass coffin. The Marines take care of their own and did a good job getting him home. Funny thing was the Vietnam War was not a Canadian war but he still chose to go fight with Americans because they were fighting for the freedom that we all strive for. If not for the USA where would we even be today? They may not be perfect but they strive for the same things we do, and with all the crazies out there and the dictators the USA keeps at bay, what kind of world would we be living in today? Vietnam War veterans were not treated very well when they came home. When Austin was buried in Holy Trinity Anglican Cemetery in Little Current there were no military honours. It wasn’t until later that the marines came and TV media from everywhere were there to witness and provide a jet fly by and a 21-gun salute from North Bay.

God bless you, Uncle Austin. Now, on May 23, 2015, I am now in my 70s and heading to Washington D.C. for Memorial Day. I plan to visit the Vietnam wall and memorial ceremonial wall and when I get back I will have a follow up of how the trip went.

Lyman Corbiere

M’Chigeeng and Michigan