Tommy Anderson was only about 10 days into his second tour of duty in Croatia when he drove over an anti-tank land mine.
© Brodie Thomas photo
Tommy Anderson of Cape Ray and his war medals. He served as a peacekeeper in Croatia and lost both his legs below the knee to an anti-tank mine.
The jeep he and a comrade were travelling in was not armoured.
“You remember those Chevettes? It wasn’t much bigger than that,” he said of his vehicle.
The blast on April 24, 1994 cost the Canadian Forces veteran both of his legs below the knee.
Over 18 years have passed since his accident. He says he still misses military life, but at the same time he feels mistreated and neglected by the government that put him in harms way.
A normal life
That fact that Mr. Anderson walks on two prosthetic limbs is not immediately obvious. He can get around his home in Cape Ray without any trouble just a bit of a limp. He still hunts, fishes, and gets out on his snowmobile.
“There’s not too much I don’t do,” he said. “I’m still enjoying life. I don’t get around as fast as I used to, but I still get around.”
The loss of his legs wasn’t easy at first, but Mr. Anderson credits his military training for helping him with both the physical and mental aspects
“I don’t know how I would’ve adjusted if I had been a civilian,” he said.
He signed up for the military just out of high school. He got through basic training, and then signed up for the infantry. Some join the military to learn trades such as mechanics or engineering, but Mr. Andersons trade was to be an infantryman.
“’First in, last out,’ is what we used to say,” said Mr. Anderson. “We’re usually right on the front lines.”
He said his second round of training for the infantry was much more difficult than basic, but he came through it and was ready to serve. He was placed in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Third Battalion.
His first overseas posting was a UN mission in the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Anderson served six months, and had his eyes opened to how good Canadians live.
His duties included patrolling the war-torn area, confiscating firearms, and sometimes looking for mass graves.
Mr. Anderson didn’t have to go back for a second tour when he did. One day a commander asked for volunteers and he raised his hand.
After driving over the mine, he was evacuated to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where American surgeons in M.A.S.H. tents stabilized him. In addition to losing his legs, he had a fracture in his left hand from the steering wheel, and a laceration to his left eye.
Later he was transported to the National Defence Medical Centre in Ottawa, where he spent six months in rehab.
“It was eight hours a day, every day, plus what I could do in my own time,” he said.
Once discharged from the hospital, it took a while longer to get honourably discharged from the military. He moved back home to Cape Ray and settled down with his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Laverne. They now have two children.
In the years since, he has struggled with government bureaucrats and insurance companies over medical bills. Even now he has been waiting months to get adjustments made to his prosthetics.
“It pisses me off to see how the government treats its veterans,” he said.
One day he came home to find a letter from his insurance company. It politely asked him to pay back $17,000. He wasn’t the only injured vet to receive such a letter. It’s something he and other veterans took to court. They recently won their case.
While Mr. Anderson received a lump-sum payment and a disability pension after his accident, that has changed for new soldiers. A solider injured today on the job will only receive a one-time lump sum payment. He doesn’t think that’s right. For him it’s not about the money, but its about the pride and dignity of disabled veterans.
“You go out and put 100 per cent into your job and you don’t get it back.”
Mr. Anderson is now a member of the Legion. He takes part in Remembrance Day activities, especially on Nov. 11. He thinks the general public is good about paying tribute to soldiers.
“People are very understanding and its usually a good turnout (at the cenotaph),” he said. “It’s very important that we do remember them for what they have done.”
He doesn’t really count himself as a hero. For Mr. Anderson it is the other veterans, and especially the men and women who didn’t make it home, whom he counts as heroes.
As a Newfoundlander, he also feels obliged to mark Memorial Day on July 1, which is also his birthday. He worries that the sacrifice made by the Newfoundland Regiment at the Battle of the Somme is sometimes lost in the happy celebrations of our national birthday.
He knows there are Canadians who would rather keep the soldiers home from overseas, but he knows in his heart that he and other forces members have made a difference in places like Croatia and Afghanistan.
As a veteran, Mr. Anderson has had some chances to meet some famous people. One of his friends from the army invited him to speak in Brantford, Ont.
Walter Gretzky was at the event. Mr. Anderson was later invited to Mr. Gretzky’s home. He brought along a copy of the hockey dad’s autobiography to be signed.
He has a photo of himself receiving a medal from then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
He also met Queen Elizabeth II at a function in St. John’s. It wasn’t much more than a smile and a handshake, but it is still a story he can share with his two sons.
Over the years Mr. Anderson took some post-secondary courses and worked as a security guard. This year he was hired by Marine Atlantic as a Stevedore. It’s a job he enjoys and thinks he will stick with. At 41, he still has a long and fruitful career ahead of him.
Despite his injury, Mr. Anderson still looks back on his time in the military as the good ol’ days.
“I still miss it to this day yet,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the military itself or the camaraderie among all the soldiers but I still miss it.”