Willard, Garry

Garry Willard was born June 24, 1939 in Cornwall, Ontario.  He grew up largely in the town of Winchester, not too far from Ottawa.  As a young boy, Garry remembers the soldiers coming home after the Second World War; he also remembers the cadets and drum and bugle corps from the time, and summers spent on his grandfather’s farm.  Given that he grew up in the 50s, Garry recalls as well the TV and music of the time – and the band where he played the drums.  When the time for university came, Garry chose to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, where he began his studies in medicine.  He completed that degree and went onto do his internship at Toronto Western Hospital, followed by time in northern Manitoba working with the local indigenous population.  He returned to Toronto in 1964-65, continuing his surgical residency.  By this time the situation in Vietnam was beginning to escalate, which Garry recalls following closely on the news.  In 1968 the Tet Offensive began, resulting in very heavy casualties, and a call went out for surgeons from neutral countries to come aid those in need.  Garry heard this appeal via the Canadian Red Cross, and he and a friend came forward, working through the Red Cross and the Department of External Affairs.  In short order Garry was on a plane bound for Saigon.  Upon arrival they were deployed to I Corps – near the DMZ – and Garry was made an American Marine.  As such he and his fellow surgeons were in the combat zone, and on a number of occasions they were fired up – and forced to return fire.  Their mandate was to treat Vietnamese civilians, but Garry and the other Canadian surgeons took patients from all sides.  Garry presents many of those compelling stories where he and other surgeons worked to save soldiers and civilians, many of whom had suffered traumatic injuries.  Garry spent the better part of a year in Vietnam, providing humanitarian assistance and witnessing first hand the brutality and complications of war.  He saw a few other areas in southeast Asia before returning to Canada, including a memorable arrival in Thailand.  Back in Canada, he went onto the career that awaited him, working in Toronto and other locations in Ontario.  He married and raised a family and made his own contribution to postwar Ontario.  Garry Willard was interviewed by Scott Masters at his home in Orillia in August 2023.