It was almost 53 years ago, but it’s still fresh in retired Sgt. Tom Green’s mind.
The Saanich veteran was recognized Tuesday with the Colonel Commandant’s Commendation for his actions following a tragic mishap at Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba on Sept. 24, 1963.
During a live firing exercise led by Green at the Royal Canadian School of Artillery, a projectile fitted with a defective fuse prematurely exploded at the muzzle of his 105mm howitzer. One soldier, 18-year-old recruit Brian Cote, died of his wounds while several others sustained lesser injuries.
Green himself took a shell fragment to the head, but he remained calm and tended to his fellow soldiers before seeking medical attention for his head wound.
“The first thing he did was tend to Cote, and at the same time, ensure that proper first aid measures were taken with respect to the other members of the detachment who were wounded,” said Colonel Commandant Jim Selbie, a retired brigadier-general.
Green was ordered to the base hospital where he had the shrapnel removed before promptly returning to the field to continue conducting the firing exercise.
“He went straight back out to the exercise and commanded the gun again to reinstill confidence in the soldiers that day… to show we carry on and we do our duty,” said Selbie. “Tom’s actions displayed incredible presence of mind, fortitude and an incredible dedication to duty that continues to serve as an example for all of us in the Royal Regiment.”
The mishap was one of four such incidents during the summer of 1963. Green recalled that he was apprehensive about the other members getting too close to the howitzer.
“I wouldn’t let the new detachment come in,” he said. “Normally, we’d let these guys come up around the gun, but I just said that day, ‘I don’t know about this,’ so I made them stay a ways back from the gun.
“The only thing that actually saved my life was I got them to dig a recoil pit. I’d never ever done the recoil pit, and it saved my life.”
In addition to Green’s commendation, Cote’s name will be inscribed in the seventh Book of Remembrance, honouring fallen soldiers in Canada’s history. The books are kept in the Memorial Chamber at the Ottawa Peace Tower.