By Mike Blanchfield-THE OTTAWA CITIZEN (CANWEST NEWS)-February 28, 2006
OTTAWA – Fifteen years after the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, a set of commemorative thank-you medals from the Kuwaiti government to Canadian troops involved in Operation Desert Storm appears to have vanished in the fog of war.
In the years following the 1991 war in which Iraqi forces were driven out of the tiny Persian Gulf state, Kuwait minted more than 4,000 commemorative medals meant for distribution to thank Canadian military personnel who participated in the international coalition and sent them to the Canadian Embassy in Kuwait in 1993, but they have all but disappeared.
In November, the oil-rich Kuwaiti government delivered a replacement set of 4,097 more to Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa, but as of Monday they were still gathering dust there.
Kuwaiti officials are reluctant to discuss the situation, and they do not seem to know what happened to the first batch of medals they sent to the Canadian Embassy in Kuwait City, two years after the end of Desert Storm.
“The Canadian government got it. That’s all what we know,” said a senior Kuwaiti official. “We don’t want to go into details. This is an internal affair.”
But former Gulf War veterans are raising questions. They want the medals as recognition for their service in the campaign to oust Saddam, a military campaign that officially ended 15 years ago today.
“It was their way of thanking us, of recognizing our efforts and our sacrifices.” said retired Forces nurse Louise Richard, a Canadian Gulf War veteran and activist.
Richard, along with other Gulf War veterans and their spouses, found out about the lost medals in the mid-1990s from the Kuwaiti embassy and have been fighting to have the government distribute them ever since.
Canada contributed three warships, 26 CF-18 fighter jets, a field hospital based in Saudi Arabia and 2,400 military personnel to the more than two dozen countries in the international coalition that liberated Kuwait. In all, some 4,000 military personnel were involved in the military buildup in the region in the months following the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam and the January 1991 war to oust his occupation force.
“To honour our participation in liberating Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government offered our soldiers the liberation of Kuwait medal in 1993. Except for a few high-ranking recipients, Canada refused to distribute the medals to all ranks. There are indications that those medals were accepted by Canada but later lost,” says a Feb. 9 letter to Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor from retired Canadian Gulf War veteran Sean Bruyea, a former navy intelligence officer.
It is believed at least three senior officers have received the medal.
Richard said a few years ago employees of the Kuwaiti embassy discovered the medals were being offered for sale on the Internet.
“They were appalled. They were hurt,” she said.
Indeed, a cursory Internet search on Monday turned up a “Liberation of Kuwait Medal Set The Real Thing” that was going for auction on EBay from a seller who claimed to be based in a suburb of Quebec City.
There was no way to verify the seller’s claim of authenticity.
Notwithstanding the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the first set of medals, the Kuwaiti government ordered a special minting of the 4,097 medals. The cost was not known, but a Kuwaiti official said the re-minting amounted to “a fortune.”
Richard was invited to a special viewing of the medals after they arrived at the Kuwaiti embassy on Oct. 31.
“I took pictures,” said Richard. “I did not want to lose them yet again.”
The government has already formally recognized its military personnel with its “Canada Gulf and Kuwait Medal” that was given to personnel who served during the buildup and the actual hostilities.
A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman verified Monday the department did in fact receive the medals from Kuwait in November.
“In general, Canada does not accept the duplication of an honour, and for that reason the honours’ policy committee cannot recognize the medal offered by Kuwait,” said Marie-Christine Lilkoff.
“The Government of Canada is not in a position to distribute to veterans a foreign medal as a memento from a foreign government.”
The government is not opposed to Canadian veterans receiving different forms of honours from a different country, Lilkoff added, saying there would be a meeting Thursday to determine what to do with the medals.
As for the original shipment of medals sent to the embassy in Kuwait more than a decade ago, she said: “I don’t have any information with regards to that.”