Richard Davidson and five other Canadian Vietnam veterans went to Potsdam New York last Wednesday, April 4 to honour Léo Brent Gunning, who died in Thua Thien Province on the same day fifty years ago.
They were also there to support NDG resident Richard Davidson, who organized the commemoration of his buddy with Gunning’s sister, Colleen Taylor.
I’d been thinking of doing something for years,” said Davidson. “We would go down and put flowers on his gravestone occasionally and I always thought I’d like to do something bigger for his family.”
The event went even better than Davidson had hoped.
Participation from both sides of the border
More than 60 people took the day off work to participate. Stephane Corbeil, Gilles Sauvé, Jacques Lalonde, Serge Coté, Jacques Gendron, Louis Lemire and Davidson all came from the Montreal area, while Gunning’s family members came from neighbouring communities.
There were a lot of cars. Many attendees joined the Canadians in the parking lot of the local mall early in the morning for a police-led multi-car procession to the cemetery.
Sky Cleared for Ceremony
Although rain and/or heavy winds ruined most of the day, the ceremony itself took place during a brief moment of clear sky.
Leo, we’ve come here to pay our respects,” said Davidson, prior to leaving a wreath with the insignia of the 82nd airborne infantry division of the United States Army at his buddy’s gravesite. “I asked you to make the weather better, and you did.”
There, Davidson got to briefly describe Gunning’s dying moments.
We got off the helicopter and we proceeded forward to help a unit that had been ambushed by the NVA,” said Davidson. “My lieutenant Risedale got shot in the head. The radioman got shot in the head. I got shot and fell down wounded. Then Leo came over and he said ‘don’t worry, Dave, I’ll take care of you.’ I said ‘get’ and before I could say ‘down’ he got shot right though the brain and he fell on my chest and he died right there.”
Gunning was among 13 men from the same unit who died due to a sniper. Davidson said he has thought often of his friend since that horrible day.
After the ceremony at the cemetery, family and friends went to the local branch of the American Legion to enjoy a buffet. A few family members sipped wine from 82nd Airborne commemorative keepsakes that Davidson brought as gifts.
Davidson’s Canadian Identity
Afterwards, we spoke a bit about Canadian Identity. Anyone who served with the U.S. Forces in Vietnam could become an American citizen. Davidson took that opportunity, but he also kept his Canadian citizenship. He says it’s always been important to him.
You know I think part of the genius of Canada is it doesn’t have an overtly set identity. I think that that’s actually a strength. It makes it difficult to tell a story but it’s actually I think one of the things that have served Canada in good stead because we don’t have such a defining character or expectation that people have to become something…To me, it’s living in a place that is more understated and more civilized and just operating at a lower slower speed compared to the U.S. And you know that is I think becoming increasingly valuable as a cultural trait in a world that’s moving way too fast. You know it gets to too many extremes in different ways in different places. So Canada is in a way a better place to live than it is to visit.
Note: I interviewed Richard for I Volunteered, Canadian Vietnam Vets Remember.