LUTZ — As the world witnessed riots and chaos in Egypt last week, memories came flooding back for a Pasco man recently honored for his peacekeeping efforts in the same region more than five decades ago.
When retired Canadian Army Lt. Col. Robert Moore landed via aircraft carrier at the Suez Canal in 1957 as part of the United Nations' first-ever peacekeeping mission, he could not have imagined his service would one day earn him mention with a Nobel Peace Prize.
Moore and 6,000 soldiers from 11 countries had been sent by the U.N. to the canal a year after Egypt took control of the crucial waterway from the British and French. Both countries responded by invading Egypt to take back the canal.
Meanwhile, on another front, Israel also invaded Egypt, setting off a crisis that gripped the world. British and French forces later agreed to pull out as the U.N. stepped in to defuse the crisis, sending its first generation of peacekeepers to monitor a tentative situation as Israel also pulled back.
When Moore, then barely in his 20s, arrived at the Suez Canal, the Toronto native observed two things: He was making history, and his life was in danger.
"I remember standing on the aircraft carrier and our captain telling us we were making history, and once we were on the ground, I knew he was right," Moore said.
He also saw dozens of vessels sunk in the canal — steel victims of recent heavy combat — as an ominous sign that violence could erupt at any moment. "It was an eerie sight," Moore said.
The mission was an effort that would earn the U.N. coalition's architect — Canada's eventual Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson — the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.
But what Moore, now 75, learned just last month is that every soldier who served on peacekeeping missions for the U.N. between 1956 and 1988 had earned a piece of the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize as the world's first generation of peacekeepers.
"I was on the Internet and came across a news story about it," Moore said. "So I sent in my credentials and they sent me the award. I was truly honored."
On Tuesday, Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri presented a medal to Moore at the commission's weekly meeting. Two days later Moore sat in his Paradise Lakes living room and recalled joining the army in 1953, and, while stationed on a base in Canada three days before Christmas, learning he was headed to the Suez Canal.
His unit left on Christmas Day on an aircraft carrier that would dock at Port Said at the canal. From there the men rode in trucks across the Sinai desert and into the Gaza strip, where they would station in the city of Rafah.
It was a treacherous trip across a desert littered with mines. Moore remembers at least a dozen Canadian soldiers killed in explosions while making the trip. He also saw a local farmer on a camel explode in front of his eyes after tripping a mine.
The horrors of war left mental scars on Moore, especially the sight of hundreds of dead Egyptian soldiers left rotting in the desert after battle, and the eerie vision of a sea of combat boots left in the sand.
"The Egyptian soldiers grew up without shoes, so when they ran from the Israeli army they would take their shoes off. Of course, we also found the soldiers who didn't make it," Moore said. "We called that area 'The Valley of the Boots.' "
For a young man who had never left North America, the sight of a near riot when his unit gave out food to the locals also shocked him.
"I had never seen starvation, so it really affected me. It makes you grow up fast," he said.
The 18 months Moore spent in Egypt and Gaza forever changed him and his perspective on the world. He would go on to serve in other far-off places like Tanzania, and he served at the Pentagon. But all along, his time as a peacekeeper in the Middle East has captured his imagination.
Moore still spends much of his time reading and learning about the Middle East, and he watches current events there like a hawk. So the irony is not lost on him that Egypt is once again in chaos, even as Moore received honors this week for keeping the peace there so long ago.
"The Middle East has always been a volatile region, and I'm afraid it always will be. I have spent a lot of time studying it and thinking about solutions for making life better there," he said.