Gerry Fostaty, AS YOU WERE,The Tragedy at Valcartier, Goose Lane, Fredericton, NB, 2011, 197 pages, Paperback, ISBN 978-0-86492-648-7 Non-Fiction $19.95
As You Were is the story of a deadly accident that could have been prevented, when young boys were killed and many others were badly wounded. The cause of the accident was glossed over, and the resulting human damage trivialized and ignored by military authorities for many years. On Tuesday, July 31, 1974, at approximately 1352 hours, six teenaged boys, all members of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, died and fifty-four were injured in an explosion on a Canadian Forces Base in Valcartier, Quebec. A live grenade inadvertently made its way into a box of dummy ammunition, and its pin was pulled during a lecture on explosives safety. Gerry Fostaty, a witness to this tragedy, and author of this moving account, spent six years as an army cadet, climbing the ranks until he became an instructor. Leaving the cadets at 19, he became an actor, working on stage and in film and television for more than 20 years. He now works as a marketing manager at an information technology company. He lives in Aurora, Ontario. As You Were is his retelling of the Valcartier tragedy.
The Royal Canadian Army Cadets (RCAC) is a Canadian national youth program sponsored by the Canadian Forces and the civilian Army Cadet League of Canada. Administered by the Canadian Forces, the program is funded through the Department of National Defence with the civilian partner providing support in the local community. Recognized as Canada's oldest youth program, there are approximately 21,000 army cadets in about 450 corps across the country.
In the summer of 1974, Gerry Fostaty was an 18 year old Cadet Sergeant stationed at Valcartier, Quebec. Just before 1400 hours on July 31, 1974, Fostaty and fellow Cadet, Fullum were walking from their Orderly Room towards 12 Platoon Barracks where an explosives safety lecture was taking place, when there was a 'sharp thump', then a moment of silence, followed by cries and screams.The unthinkable had occurred. A live M-61 grenade had been included amongst a number of dummy grenades. The live grenade had been passed around the lecture room, along with dummy ones, and someone had pulled the safety pin. The M-61 is a fragmentation hand grenade which is designed to kill and injure anyone within 15 metres of the explosion point. Live grenades are olive green. Dummies are painted with gaudy colours and have markings to indicate that they are not live. The lecture was being given by Captain Giroux, a guest lecturer and explosives expert who, one would assume, would immediately have recognized a live grenade. as would the ammunition technician who was also present in the room. That recognition did not occur.
As You Were is a documentation of events leading up to this disaster, but it is also the account of its aftermath - not just in the days and weeks that followed , but also in the more than 30 years since that fateful July. Immediately after the traumatic event came identification of victims and the formal inquiries and interviews, but shock and grief and guilt took much longer to settle, not days and weeks, but months and even years. Many of those present that July day so long ago suffer still, some physically, many mentally, slowly recognizing the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Over the years,memorial services and reunions, a proven source of healing, have not been encouraged by the military who have said, ' That was thirty-four years ago. It is over. We have turned the page.'As well, the Department of Veterans Affairs have deftly side-stepped any responsibility by saying that 'Cadets are not members of the Armed Forces' all of which makes one wonder, finally, at the truth and worth of the motto on the crest of the RCAC - 'Acer Acerpori - As the Maple so the Sapling.' One would hope this isn't so.
Anyone interested in training programs for boys and girls, especially in the Cadet organizations in this country, would do well to read this excellent.testimony.