Humour in Uniform: Lest We Remember

A brave and overdue choice by the Royal Canadian Legion to assign Diana Abel as this year’s Silver Cross Mother, to lay a wreath on behalf of all the other bereaved military moms at the War Memorial Nov. 11. Her son Cpl. Mike Abel, died on our shambolic mission in Somalia. He was 27.

“Corporal Abel died on May 3, 1993 during Operation Deliverance in Belet Huen, Somalia,” informs the Legion release. “Well-respected by his fellow comrades, they chose to honour him by naming a ‘Jump Zone Abel’ at the Gjoa Haven airfield, on King William Island, Nunavut. In 1993 they also named their base in Bosnia, ‘Base Abel.’ In life, Michael had a passion for car repair, motorcycles, travel and family.”

And, er, that’s it, really!

Ma Abel always considered herself a long shot for the Silver Cross honour, despite two years of lobbying by former members of the coprophagous Canadian Airborne Regiment for a little recognition, already.

“I always said they would never choose me [as the Silver Cross Mother] because of the Somalia incident,” she told the CBC, her point well-taken.

Cpl. Abel was the only Canadian casualty of the Somalia deployment, where the most dangerous element turned out to be the Canadians. Indeed, Abel was ushered into the eternal by his wacky bunkmate MCpl David Smith, who fatally shot him whilst fucking around with his C7.

The report of the Somalia Inquiry, Dishonoured Legacy: The Lessons of the Somalia Affair, recounts the misadventure thus:

“It was first reported that the accidental discharge occurred while the soldier was cleaning his rifle. Later, it was reported to Maj [Vince] Buonamici that MCpI Smith had been dry-firing his weapon without the magazine when it fired unexpectedly. A summary investigation found that MCpI Smith had placed the magazine into his weapon while incorrectly holding the loaded weapon.”

Abel

Only adding to the ugliness of the incident was the stash of white supremacist literature reportedly found in poor Cpl. Abel’s belongings. When attempts to disappear the inconvenient evidence failed, loyal comrades cast doubt on whether Abel was even the true owner, since such materials were in such wide circulation among our boys in Belet Huen.

Unlike the U.S. military, which had prohibited its soldiers from active participation in racist organizations since 1986, Canada still had an open-door policy at the time, and it was pretty clear even before deployment that the Airborne had a not-insignificant skinhead contingent, which had drawn the attention of the military’s Special Investigations Unit.

The Somalia Inquiry reported:

“During pre-deployment preparations at CFB Petawawa, racist symbols, including Nazi swastikas, and Ku Klux Klan and Confederate or ‘Rebel’ flags, had been reported. Racist epithets such as ‘nigger’ were known to be used, and neo-Nazis and other varieties of white supremacists were known to be present among CAR members. The reaction of CAR’s leadership at the time was to deal with incidents or inappropriate symbols as matters of discipline. At CFB Petawawa, then, when Col [Paul] Morneault banned the ‘Rebel’ flag as 2 Commando’s rallying symbol, he did so because it was seen to interfere with the discipline of the troops, and possibly because it threatened the cohesion of the regiment itself, not because it was considered racist.”

Among the regiment’s more famous proud boys was Cpl. Matt McKay, who’d been obliged to explain a newspaper photo of himself sieg-heiling under a swastika flag as a youthful indiscretion. Sure, he’d previously been a member of the Winnipeg KKK, while attached to the PPCLI, but he’d quit in 1991 and renounced racism.

A 1993 home video shot in Somalia and later obtained by the CBC included all manner of politically incorrect joshing from our boys, including an entirely rehabilitated Cpl. McKay pronouncing on the mission so far: “I think it sucks cock, man. We ain’t killed enough niggers yet!”

Things would soon pick up on that front, with the grotesque torture death of Somali teenager Shidane Arone.

Mercifully, Cpl. Abel’s reading habits and other extracurriculars were not raised at MCpl Smith’s court martial, at which he pled guilty to negligent performance of duty and got four months and a demotion. His was just the most serious of 19 cases of careless weapon-handling and accidental discharges from the madcap Somalia adventure which ended in convictions. A charge of criminal negligence causing death against him was withdrawn. Case closed.

The muckraking military mag Esprit de Corps noted in 1997, “The fact that Airborne Corporal Mike Abel was a member of the KKK was never broached during the court martial of his killer.”

There’s no life like it!

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