FOR THE RECORD
THE MURDER OF CORPORAL DANIEL GUNTHER
By S.R. Taylor
ESPRIT DE CORPS CANADIAN MILITARY MAGAZINE
In the November issue of Esprit de Corps, we ran a special dedication to those service members who gave their lives either in training or on peacekeeping missions during 1993. It was originally planned for this to be an eight page feature, and to facilitate research, we enlisted the aid of a public affairs officer. After eight weeks - and two days before our deadline - we received a single typewritten sheet from National Defence Headquarters with no more than names, ranks and serial numbers. As a result, the condensed article which we eventually compiled was based largely on information from previously published news clippings.
Since publication, we have received numerous phone calls urging us to set the record straight on a number of points. For the most part, our informants seemingly had first hand knowledge of the death in question, and their version differed greatly from the party line that the public affairs branch was still trying to sell to us as late as November 11, 1993.
The Department of National Defence's press release June 19th stated: Corporal Daniel Gunther had died June 18th of wounds he received when a mortar shell landed near his armoured personnel carrier.
Reality: Gunther was targeted by a direct-fire anti-tank rocket, in broad daylight, without question as to his United Nations identity. The rocket fired did not land near his carrier, it literally punctured his chest and exploded on the turret behind him, blowing apart his head and torso.
Who knew the truth? The original Significant Incident Report sent to National Defence Headquarters approximately 15 hours after the incident took place stated Gunther had been hit by anti-tank fire.
Six hours later, a subsequent report from Bosnia made a single curious mention of a mortar engaging the Armoured Personnel Carrier. Based on the strength of this, the Public Affairs hacks at National Defence Headquarters released their near-miss-fabrication. A Board of Inquiry was naturally held to determine exactly what transpired, and this concluded July 10th without doubt. Corporal Gunther was the victim of anti-tank fire.
The eyewitness testimony contained in the official report included a reference to the sound of a mortar firing, and two seconds later, an explosion from callsign (X) position. The other crew member was questioned as to the time of flight, and his response was "3 to 4 seconds". As there was no other evidence available, either immediately after the attack or throughout the inquiry, it is safe to assume that these soldiers would have realized, from the outset, that the weapon fired could not possibly have been a mortar, (Even a young infantryman knows that a mortar bomb has a flight time of 30 seconds plus!)
Allowing for bureaucratic red tape and the necessity to be absolutely sure before issuing a retraction, one cannot help but wonder why the results of the inquiry were not made public after July 10.
"These things have to go through the whole chain of command, and that takes time," said Bob Gonzales, Senior Public Affairs spokesman, in response to Esprit de Corps' questions on December 16th( apparently Chief of Defence Staff Anderson had still not seen the report( and now he never will?)
Was there opportunity to set the record straight? There were a number of editorials and news articles following Gunther's death which cited the lack of armour and advanced age of the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier as the true killer. The implication was that if our vehicles could not even stop mortar shrapnel from near misses, what good are they? Apparently it was better to have the public angered at obsolete equipment, than it would have been to tell them one of our soldiers was murdered. Subsequent events have proven that theory; Canadians were outraged to learn that 11 of our boys were roughed up by drunken Serbs. You can imagine the response if this cold-blooded killing had become public knowledge at the wrong time (when exactly was our election called?)
Who suffers?: the comrades of Corporal Gunther who continue to serve amidst the dangers which their own brethren in public affairs refuse to make known to the public at large. The tremendous explosion rocked the entire carrier. But Robert reacted instinctively. He shut the combat door and screamed for Gunther to "Get the hell out of there!". Turning around, Robert saw the lower half of Gunther splattered over the drivers compartment. Although not qualified to drive the vehicle, Robert pulled the remains of his comrade from the seat and took the tiller bars.
After driving the vehicle to safety, and then back to a medical station, Robert had the presence of mind to isolate the grisly sight from general viewing so as not to affect unit morale in a detrimental way. Such acts of heroism and discipline should not be secretly decorated at a private military luncheon, but rather they should be held up as examples from which the Canadian citizenry can take pride.
Surprisingly, it may even help our returning veterans to cope with the horrors they've witnessed, should they be made to feel that it somehow mattered.
What does the future hold? Unfortunately for our service members, it would appear that the public affairs branch are committed to retaining the status quo of putting political interests above those in uniform. After breaking the true story of Gunther's death to the Toronto Sun (December 17), our office was informed that we had "breached a trust" and that "it would be wise (for us) to watch our backs".
On January 6th, Rene Gauthier, a spokesman with Air Canada telephones to say that "Department of National Defence brass were not happy with Esprit de Corps" and as a result they were cancelling post-haste our long- standing contract. (For the past five years, Esprit de Corps has provided the Canadian Forces with their Inflight Magazine, free of charge.)
Are the two events somehow related? Bob Gonzales is a loyal civil servant.