Island Cold War veterans receive service medals for NATO action

Northshore Naval Veterans President Bryan Chapelle pins the Special Service Medal with NATO bar on the lapels of Cold War veterans Jeff Marshall and Gary Trimmer while a member of the Legion rifle squad stands at attention. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—A warm Victoria Day Weekend sun shone down brightly on the men dressed in dark Legion blue as they assembled under the stony gaze of the Little Current cenotaph this past weekend. Their mission on this fine warm day was to honour two men for their service during some of western civilization’s darkest hours—known to history as The Cold War.

Little Current residents Jeff Marshall and Gary Trimmer stood tall, unbowed by the passage of years since their service in the Canadian Armed Forces as Little Current Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177 public relations officer Roy Eaton explained the day’s events to a small crowd of family members, local veterans and Legion members, leavened with a smattering of May 24 weekend visitors to the Island.

Quoting the honourees who claimed not to know what they were being awarded medals for, Comrade Eaton explained that “the Special Service Medal is a medal awarded to members of the Canadian Forces, that the medal was established by Queen Elizabeth II on June 16, 1984,  and that recipients of this medal must have performed ‘service under exceptional circumstances in a specifically defined location for an established period of time’.” 

Comrade Eaton went on to explain that “the medal is always issued with a bar, which specifies the special service which the medal recognizes” and that, “each bar has its own criteria.

The bars being presented that day were authorized on November 26, 1992, and included the NATO bar, which recognizes honourable service with NATO.”

Comrade Eaton noted that qualifying service is defined as being posted with a NATO unit, or to an allied unit or Canadian Forces unit beyond the territorial borders of Canada serving under the command of a NATO headquarters.

“Shipmate Jeff Marshall served for 10 years and Shipmate Gary Trimmer for three years with the Canadian Forces, Navy both on separate destroyers,” said Comrade Eaton. “Jeff was an engineer and Gary was a sonar operator. Both saw service around Cuban waters during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the world almost erupted into nuclear war. During those troubled times, both served on ships which had rounded topsides so nuclear dust would be washed away and no chance of being trapped in raised bulwarks.” Comrade Eaton had a photograph of the type of destroyer the shipmates had served upon, which he used to demonstrate the vessels.

“To be eligible for the medal, one has to see service in a number of NATO operations,” he continued. “The Cuban Missile Crisis was one, a combined training exercise under British command in the Hebrides and a Mediterranean exercise was another. In addition, between the two of them they sailed in the waters off Greenland, Iceland, Denmark, Portugal, Gibraltar and Bermuda, to name a few.”

Comrade Eaton related one of Mr. Trimmer’s memories while off the coast of Italy. “Shore leave took him to Rome and to the Vatican, where he received several rosaries which had been blessed by the pope,” he said. “It was my privilege to work for many years with Jeff on Legion affairs. When I would speak of veterans, he always told me he wasn’t a real veteran and we had a number of friendly arguments over this as I told him, ‘I didn’t care what he called himself, I would always use the term real veteran for him and everyone who served in the forces whether during time of war or peace’.”

Comrade Eaton then went on to amend an American quote, to wit “a veteran—whether active duty, retired, or reserve—is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The People of Canada,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life’.”

Following Comrade Eaton’s opening remarks, retired Sgt. Wayne Golden escorted the duo to the cenotaph where the president of the Manitoulin North Shore Naval Veterans Association, Bryan Chapelle, pinned the medals onto the lapels of the Cold War veterans.

A gun party stood at arms and saluted during the ceremony, although they did not fire their rifles, and afterward offered to provide a gun salute over the graves of any local veteran should their family members request it.

“Every veteran is entitled to a salute,” said Mr. Golden. “Not everyone has received the recognition they are entitled to.”