Captain Keith Mirau: Life before and memory today

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August 9th is proclaimed Captain Keith Mirau Day in Gull Lake

BY KAILEY GUILLEMIN

42 years ago the Buffalo 461, filled with Canadian Peacekeepers, was flying over the Middle East before being shot down, killing all nine crew members.

Now since 2008, August 9, the day the “Buffalo Nine” were killed in Canada’s greatest loss of life in a peacekeeping mission, is known across the country as National Peacekeepers Day. It is a day to reflect on those who gave the greatest sacrifice, and those currently on serving as Canadian Peacekeepers.

But what still remains a vivid memory of that day is news to some, including the connection Gull Lake has to August 9 and the “Buffalo Nine”. Captain Keith Bradley Mirau was a Gull Lake citizen before joining the Canadian Air Force, enlisting on February 19, 1963.

Captain Keith B. Mirau
Captain Keith Bradley Mirau

Born October 19, 1944 in Swift Current, Keith and his family moved to Gull Lake in the early 1950s. Younger brother to Garth Mirau and older brother Neil Mirau, they were raised with the small town feelings Gull Lake has to offer.

“I think we were probably more or less the epitome of a normal Gull Lake family,” younger brother Neil reminisced about his childhood in the small town. “Garth and Keith played hockey, I played high school football and a couple other sports.”

“I liked growing up there and we did all the normal small town things.”

Keith was a quieter man to some, but liked by all. He was academically inclined which helped him get into the Air Force. Keith was more or less the ideal candidate for the position.

Despite being eight years younger, Keith and Neil were quite close. Although going through typical brotherly fights, Neil idolized his brother.

“He was kind of a hero figure for me,” Neil explained. “When he went into the Air Force that was just amplified.”

“If I was going to summarize Keith up in a few kind words, I think gracious, sincere and genuine would be some of the ones I would attach to him.”

For as long as Neil could remember, his older brother was going to be not just a pilot, but with the Canadian Air Force. When the time came that Keith was asked to join the peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East, without question Keith joined. But not everyone in the family agreed with this decision and by this time, Keith was married to Gloria Mirau.

“I do remember his response…I thought it showed his character in the correct detail,” Neil explained Keith’s response to his reserved parents about being a Peacekeeper. “He simply said look, I joined the Air Force to serve the country. The country has asked me to do this, I’m going to do it.”

“He was not at all reluctant. He was enthusiastic about it.”

But when that day came, on August 9, 1974, when the now older Neil from Calgary was visiting his parents back in Gull Lake, the Mirau family changed.

As the news was spreading of a Canadian Peacekeepers plane being shot down, the tension in their mother was growing. RCMP informed their father of the news that the plane shot down was the Buffalo, Keith’s plane.

“So dad went home and mom saw him walking up the driveway in the middle of the day, which was unheard of, he wouldn’t be home,” Neil explained. “She knew exactly what had happened and of course, all hell broke loose in our house.”

“We were all sort of beside ourselves with grief.”

Support starting rolling in from friends across the town to the Mirau family. The Town of Gull Lake came together to support one of their own in crisis.

Although the family eventually moved on, their mother carried her grief with her until her death in 2010.

Proclamation of Captain Keith Mirau Day

The story of Keith Mirau and his tragic death on August 9 was not one widely known to everyone. But for one man in particular, he can still remember the day the world for the Mirau’s changed forever.

Tom Frook, a former resident of Gull Lake who now lives in Nova Scotia, grew up down the street from the Mirau family. Fathers of both families being local entrepreneurs, playing street hockey with the brothers, Frook had a connection with the family.

“I can tell you the community felt horrible. I did as well. It was a profound in the day … A tragedy involving anyone’s family is something that stands out in your mind,” Frook explained remembering the day the news broke about Keith’s death.

So this past summer it was noted on his Facebook Page of Keith Mirau’s contribution to Canadian Peacekeepers and little recognition to the man himself, Frook took that seriously and contacted the Town of Gull Lake.

August 9 would be known as Captain Keith Mirau Day alongside National Peacekeepers Day in Gull Lake.

“I wrote an email to the mayor and I gave him a brief background of the story… I explained to him what I could remember of what happened in Gull Lake in 1974,” Frook said.

Mayor Blake Campbell and the town council knew of the events on August 9. But what was not known was what came afterwards, that because of the deaths of Keith and the other eight Peacekeepers on the Buffalo, this led to the national recognition of Peacekeepers Day.

“We discussed it at council and we unanimously agreed that we certainly were in favor of making that proclamation,” Mayor Campbell explained.

Frook was delighted to hear the town agreed on the proclamation.

“Something that when it happens to a small town person, at the moment it happened it set the town on its ass,” Frook explained. “I’m proud of that little town would do that.”

When told about the proclamation, Neil and his brother Garth were happy to hear their hometown giving recognition to their late brother’s sacrifice for his country. Although he was surprised to hear who it came from, Neil was happy Tom helped bring the proclamation to life.

“I was really gratified after we heard that it had been done, that it came from Tom,” Neil explained. “I just had no idea that it would come from Tom, but we’re really pleased that it did.”

The proclamation speaks to Gull Lake’s dedication to remember all veterans, past and current, and their sacrifice to this country.

“The one thing I have to say with Gull Lake, as long as I’ve lived here this seems to keep growing, we have a very strong connection with our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Mayor Campbell explained. “I think it will give us a whole, a much deeper appreciation for National Peacekeepers Day and what it means.”

In a letter to the Town of Gull Lake, Garth and Neil on behalf of the Mirau family thanked the entire town and those involved in the proclamation of Captain Keith Mirau Day for their recognition and remembrance of not just Keith’s sacrifice but Peacekeepers across the country.

This article was originally published in Advance Southwest on November 14, 2016.

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