The two central Alberta veterans helped diffused hostilities in the Middle East and were given a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis were among a global contingent of 500,000 United Nations-sanctioned peacekeepers who received this international honour in 1988. It was bestowed on personnel from many nations who had served as observers and UN soldiers in world peacekeeping operations from 1948 to 1988.
Coubrough, of Blackfalds, and Bevis, of Lacombe, were also good friends. They met while working at the former Penhold Canadian forces base and kept in touch ever since it closed, sharing their service stories over a weekly beer.
Now Coubrough, former president of the Sylvan Lake Legion, has died at the age of 84 on Aug. 18 at the Red Deer Hospice.
“He was a nice guy — a lot funnier than me,” said an emotional Bevis, adding “he will be missed.”
His friend’s death leaves one less peacekeeper who remembers a time when Canada’s international peacekeeping efforts were at their height.
“There was a time when Canada had a great reputation… Other countries loved us,” said Bevis.
This nation was once described as a peacekeeping behemoth. But lately, military experts have lamented that Canada has fewer peacekeeping deployments in global hot-spots than ever.
Starting with former Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, Canada was a stalwart supporter of UN peacekeeping missions for decades, contributing 125,000 troops and police officers to missions in more than 35 countries.
Coubrough was among 12,000 Canadians who served in the Golan Heights in Syria.
He was there in 1977-‘79, after the Yom Kippur War when the United Nations was supervising an 80-km buffer zone between Syria and Egypt. The Canadian role was to provide transportation, supply, maintenance and communications for other UN forces.
Bevis said Coubrough never spoke much to him about his tense experiences in the Golan Heights — but then he didn’t have to.
Bevis had survived a similar pressure-cooker environment while serving as a peacekeeper from 1974-‘75 in Egypt’s Gaza Strip.
The now 65-year-old worked in an uncertain environment where rock-throwing at peacemakers was common and occasional shooting would erupt.
“We were not allowed to carry loaded weapons. We had ammo in our pockets but couldn’t load or use our weapons unless we were given permission.”
Bevis saw some ugly things. One time, he was ordered to help clean up a bloody mess inside a building. He doesn’t know whether a bomb detonated in the room, but “there were body parts everywhere. We didn’t know if they were human or animal…
“We were just there to help out and do whatever they needed us to do…”
His most harrowing memory involves operating the lead vehicle of a peacekeeping convoy that was crossing the Suez Canal. Both ends of the narrow bridge would only be open for the UN’s use for short while and “you didn’t want to miss the timing for your convoy,” he recalls.
While approaching the middle of the bridge, Bevis was dumbfounded to see a man with a donkey cart coming straight at the convoy from the other end. There was no room for the truck and the cart to cross at once, and Bevis said nobody knew whether “this was a set-up” and the man was carrying explosives, or what he was doing there?
His commander ordered Bevis to continue ahead, which meant he had to push the man, cart and donkey into the canal. “I don’t know if he lived… it’s these kind of things that eat at you after a while,” he admits.
There was no post-traumatic support available at the time. But Bevis has been seeing a psychologist lately to deal with all he experienced.
Peacekeeping is fraught with danger — which is why most peacekeepers only lasted six months to a year before being sent home, said Bevis.
Although they receive less attention than soldiers who have fought in war zones, he believes peacekeepers make an important contribution.
No funeral arrangements for Coubrough have yet been made. His family says memorial donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s or Cancer Society, or Red Deer Hospice.