British Columbia

B.C. marine, nicknamed 'Canada', remembered by fellow soldiers as Vietnam hero

George Jmaeff from Osoyoos, B.C., joined the U.S. Marines and then fought and died in the Vietnam War.

George Jmaeff from Osoyoos, B.C., was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroics during the Vietnam war

George 'Canada' Jmaeff, from Osoyoos, B.C. fought for the U.S. Marines and died in battle in the Vietnam War (Vietnam Vetrans Memorial Fund)

Unlike many of the young men who died in Vietnam, Cpl. George Victor Jmaeff did not have to be part of the conflict.

A Canadian from Osoyoos, B.C., Jmaeff enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps because he had a burning desire to join the war, according to fellow soldier Karl Marlantes.

"He was one of these guys, I don't know how to describe him. An archetypal warrior," said Marlantes. "He was just one of these guys who wanted to fight."

Jmaeff was one of an estimated 12,000 Canadians who served in Vietnam.

He was also one of at least 134 Canadian soldiers believed to have died in the war.

A 'fearless warrior'

During his time with the U.S. Marines, Jmaeff earned a reputation as a fearless warrior, said Marlantes in an interview with CBC Radio's Daybreak South

"He always 'walked the point'," he said, explaining that the phrase means Jmaeff led his platoon through the jungle and was at risk of being the first soldier to walk into an ambush or confront the enemy.

"He got a M60 machine gun, cut the barrel down, welded a wooden handle on it so he could hold it without burning his hands, and he walked the point with this machine gun, with machine gun ammo in cans strapped in front of his body. I mean, we are talking about an enormous amount of weight." 

Cpl. George Jmaeff was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism while serving as a platoon sergeant with the U.S. Marines. (Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund)

Jmaeff was nicknamed "Canada" by his fellow marines.

Marlantes says he and the other soldiers in the platoon idolized the Canadian.

"He was the best in the company. So when you had a hard job, 'Where's 'Canada'? We need him.'" he said.

"People would talk about him all over the regiment."

Marlantes wrote a novel based on his experiences in Vietnam titled Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War.

He based one of the main characters in his book on Jmaeff.

"You see the guy and you go, 'Whoa, I want to be like that,'" he said. 

"He had this sort of swagger and confidence."

Heroic actions cost Jmaeff his life

On March 1, 1969, Jmaeff was serving as a platoon sergeant with his company in an assault on an enemy position at the top of a hill.

Jmaeff attacked the position alone and was wounded by grenade fragments, but pressed on to take out his target.

Later, while his wounds were still being treated, he left a secure location to rejoin the battle in an attempt to help soldiers under attack by mortar fire. 

That's when Jmaeff was killed by a mortar round. 

The gravestone for Cpl. George Victor Jmaeff is in the Osoyoos cemetary. (Mary Riggs Brinson/FindAGrave.com)

He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously, the highest medal given by the U.S. Marines.

To this day, four of the soldiers in Jmaeff's platoon wear a silver bracelet on their wrist engraved with George's name, said Marlantes. 

"We all have sort of a hero inside us, and George could just evoke that," he said.

"You could just take your hero and say, 'that's Canada — that's the guy.'  To this day, people talk about him this way."

With files from CBC Radio's Daybreak South

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