Families still feel the loss of seven fallen paratroopers
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Family members of the seven paratroopers who died on the night of May 8, 1968 pause in front of a new memorial boulder placed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
GARRISON PETAWAWA - Kim Guest remembers men coming to her home on that early May day 50 years ago.
The news they carried changed her life forever. It was military officials informing them that her father, Cpl. Bruce Chiswell, a member of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was missing after a parachuting accident at Base Petawawa. For days, she and her siblings stayed with their grandparents, but they weren't allowed to watch television.
“The tragedy was all over the news,” Guest recounted as she told her story during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Wegner Point disaster Sunday at Garrison Petawawa. During those long hours, she never gave up hope. “I started to fantasize about my dad on the bank of the river waiting for someone to come find him.”
Then on Mother's Day came the news they all dreaded. The body of the 30-year-old infantryman had been recovered from the Ottawa River. Cpl. Chiswell was the last of the seven fallen paratroopers to be found. Unlike some of the other victims, he had managed to free himself of his equipment but didn't make it to shore.
“The last words my dad said to me were 'Happy Birthday',” added Guest. “Eight days later he was gone.”
While five decades have passed since the tragic jump, the losses remain for the surviving families. Stephen Fields, who along with his siblings Fred, Tina and Tammie, laid a wreath on behalf of all the families. Lynette Riddell, widow of Master Warrant Officer Reginald Riddell, was also in attendance with three children, David, Mark and Susan. Cpl. Jim Misener's sister, Linda, came to remember her lost brother, as did Carol Goff, who was engaged to Jim at the time of the ill-fated para drop.
Those tragic hours at Wegner Point on the evening of May 8, 1968 are never far from the thoughts of Patti Beek, who came to the ceremony accompanied by her sisters, Catherine, Chrissy and Suzanne, to honour her father, Cpl. Bob Knight. She recounted the time when she visited the Military Communications and Electronics Museum in Kingston with her nephew and spotted an exhibit about the 1968 drop. Featured in the display was a helmet that had been pulled from the Ottawa River near Wegner Point in 2005 by a retired Airborne soldier. The artifact captured the enormity of the diaster for Beek.
“I realized that these seven men were brothers, not by blood, but much closer and why this memorial is so important, not just for us, but for their brothers as well, because they are the ones that survived and have carried the memory of these fallen soldiers throughout the years,” she said.