Paratroopers mark death of seven soldiers

Special ceremony planned for Sooke on May 6

Forty-nine years ago, 26 paratroopers took off from an airfield near Pembroke, Ont. The conditions were favourable for an early evening drop.

Those conditions changed drastically when the men began exiting the planes at around 8:30 p.m.

Staring down at the dark, perilous Ottawa River, most knew they were overshooting the drop zone. The wind sheer that caught them off guard propelled 22 of them into the frigid waters with some landing as far as 1,000 feet offshore.

Entangled in their parachutes and weighed down by equipment, most struggled to escape being dragged to the bottom. When rescuers finished pulling what men they could from the water, seven were still missing.

The death of the seven men on May 8, 1968 is marked every year by fellow paratroopers, and on May 6 a special memorial service will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion in Sooke.

“We gather to remember them,” said Rick Sluggett, a retired Canadian airborne paratrooper.

“For anybody who has been with the airborne, seven people dying in one drop is unheard of unless it was the Second World War.”

The ceremony is held each May by the Canadian Airborne Forces Association across Canada. The local event is sponsored by Drop Zone Vancouver Island, a group of retired paratroopers, and held in different communities every year.

The Sooke event begins at 10:45 a.m. with the parade forming up in the legion parking lot and making its way to the cenotaph. The parade will be led by a quarter guard and colour party.

Seven wreaths will be laid in honour of the fallen soldiers. A lunch will follow at the legion.

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