Lt-Cdr. John Williston remembers the daytime darkness after Iraqi troops began blowing up Kuwaiti oil wells during the Persian Gulf War 25 years ago.

It was January 1991, and he was stationed at a prisoner camp on the border of Saudia Arabia and Kuwait. 

"The sky was black. We got up in the morning and there was no sunrise. There was no sun," he said. "We thought, 'My goodness, has there been a nuclear bomb? What has happened?' Your skin would be slippery with oil for days."


A file photo dated February 26, 1991 of a U.S. soldier standing night guard as oil wells burn in the distance in Kuwait, just south of the Iraqi border on the last night of the Gulf War. Hundreds of burning oil wells lit up the sky after they were sabotaged by retreating Iraqi soldiers. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

The Persian Gulf War was Canada's first major battle since the Korean War (1950-53). More than 4,000 Canadian air, navy and land personnel joined an international coalition to force invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. for

Veterans and dignitaries gathered for a ceremony at the Canadian War Museum on Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait.

Abdulhamid Alfailawaki, the ambassador of Kuwait, expressed "profound gratitude" to Canada.

"A true friend of Kuwait," he said. 

After delivering a history of the war during the ceremony, Williston said the mission began with uncertainty over how much force the military would use.

"When we went over there, we weren't entirely sure we were going to war," he said. "We had this tremendous tradition of peacekeeping and patrolling and supporting and humanitarian aid but not of actual combat, not of actually going into war."

After the bombing began, he watched one colleague's hair go from jet black to salt-and-pepper in six weeks.

"People were literally turning grey overnight. It was the psychological aspect of being in the war and being bombed," he said.