UN Peacekeeper reflects on his service

Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Mike Palka in his navy dress whites. (Photo submitted)Mike Palka in his navy dress whites. (Photo submitted)
Mike Palka during his deployment in the former Yugoslavia. (Photo submitted)Mike Palka during his deployment in the former Yugoslavia. (Photo submitted)
Mike Palka has kept patches and pins from the various ships he sailed on an operations he took part in. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Mike Palka has kept patches and pins from the various ships he sailed on an operations he took part in. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Mile Palka spent 35 years serving in the Canadian Navy and took part in five UN peacekeeping missions. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Mike Palka on the cover of Newsweek Manila in 1990 welcomed his ship the HMCS Kootenay to the Philippines. (Photo submitted)Mike Palka on the cover of Newsweek Manila in 1990 welcomed his ship the HMCS Kootenay to the Philippines. (Photo submitted)

Peace is something one should never take for granted.

That was the lesson that Eagle Creek resident Mike Palka learned in his time as a UN Peacekeeper. Palka said that he was proud to be a part of the deterrent to prevent war from escalating.

“It’s like having a wall there saying ‘if you climb over this wall, there’s going to be trouble,” Palka, 71, said. “You’re standing up to aggression and Canada’s reputation makes people think twice about using that aggression.”

The son of Polish immigrants, Palka grew up on a farm near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. As a child, he said he had always been interested in the military and was a member of the army, air and sea cadets all at once. While he eventually had to leave air cadets, Palka said his time with each organization gave him an idea of what the military was like.

After graduating from St. Joseph’s College, Palka joined the navy at 19 where he spent the next 35 years. He went into logistics and rose to the rank of chief petty officer in charge of supplies including groceries, beer, spare parts and ammunition for several different warships and bases.

Palka said that no matter what he was doing, be it the grunt work of loading supplies or later supervising the grunt work, the camaraderie of the military was fantastic.

“High morale means you have a good crew with a successful mission and that’s what our goal was, to have successful missions.”

Thanks to his posting in the navy Palka got to travel the world, visiting over 180 countries during his career. During that time he said he saw some real eye-opening experiences. One of his prouder moments was when his ship the HMCS Kootenay helped rescue 90 Vietnamese immigrants lost at sea in 1990.

“We were in the South China Sea and we came across this boat of 90 migrants and they ended up being repatriated back to Canada after we dropped them off in the Philippines,” Palka said. “It’s rewarding because we saved those lives though two of them, unfortunately, we had to bury at sea. They were in horrible conditions because their engine died and they were stranded at sea for weeks. Little things like that you do and are rewarding in themself.”

Palka did five tours as a United Nations Peacekeeper including in Damascus in 1985. Working in the Middle East, Palka said was another adventure and allowed him to float in the Dead Sea and climb Mount Masada.

“When I think back on those five tours of peacekeeping, yeah, a couple of them were a little dangerous but you don’t think about that. It’s a job and you do it with pride and to the best of your ability.”

His deployment as a member of the Canadian Contingent Support Group for the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry’s visit to Yugoslavia in 1993 especially stuck with Palka. While he never saw combat himself he said it was a stressful time and he saw firsthand the horrors of war.

“When they say war is hell they’re not kidding, it is not a pleasant thing,” Palka said. “It’s even more difficult nowadays to sit and watch what’s happening in Ukraine and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

One day Palka and his comrades were heading out for dinner ins Visoko when they witnessed a woman running across the street with a baby. Palka said she was killed by a sniper and the baby was left lying in the street for hours while the family waited for dark to rescue it. That experience stuck with him and gave him PTSD.

“That burned a hole in my mind and stuck with me. What saved me afterward was talking about it. I was fortunate in the way we were able to talk it out.”

Palka said when thinking back on his service he prefers to highlight the good he was able to do. While deployed in Yugoslavia Palka and other Canadian soldiers helped an 85-year-old widower by chopping her firewood for the winter.

With Remembrance Day approaching Palka said he feels pride at being a Canadian veteran. This year he encourages the community to remember why Canada is a free and prosperous nation.

“To be Canadian means that you care about each other and I think right now it’s very important for people to think about how you treat others,” Palka said. “So many people have sacrificed their lives for you to be able to stand here and be free. You have to deep down say I’m a Canadian, be proud of it and treat others with respect.”



patrick.davies@100milefreepress.net

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