Peter Robert Doman 1962-2008

As a combat engineer, he was cool and unruffled; Barbara was both his wife and his patron saint

Peter Robert Doman was born on June 18, 1962 in Corner Brook, Nfld., the third of four children, to Marie, a homemaker, and David, who worked at the pulp mill. Pete had a slow start: he did not speak until he began school. Their home, on Doman’s Lane — named so a century ago after a minor feud with another family — overlooked the Bay of Islands, where the Domans caught cod, and backed onto the vast woods where Pete learned to love the forest. Soon it was hard to keep him quiet. A smart boy, Pete struggled with school, putting more store in friends and in the stray dogs he dragged home than in his studies. One day he showed up, grinning, to announce he’d failed the year. “He was a little rascal,” says his father.

As the Domans kept no liquor, it was with some surprise that David one day saw Pete, at 15, with the boys by the tracks, a beer in his hand. “I’m taking you right to the police,” he told him. “I thought that would give him a scare.” As they neared the station, David grew dismayed at his son’s cool. “I was more nervous than he was,” he says. Instead he took him home. Friends dubbed Pete “Rocky,” “after the movie boxer,” says Dwight, his younger brother. “He was quick, he could handle himself with the guys.” Even with forestry training in St. John’s, he could find no work and decided on the army. To get fit, he settled on a peculiar regimen, walking five kilometres alone into the woods each day with a bucksaw and an axe, and building a cabin. Pete enlisted in 1984, training as a heavy-equipment operator in 1 CER, a combat engineering division, and learning to handle the Zettelmeyer, a 22-metric-ton armoured loader.

He was 24 and untested in battle when he met Barbara Hicks, in Chilliwack, B.C. A transplant from northern England and a fellow soldier, Barb first saw him in the mess hall so intent on eating, she says, that she couldn’t see his face: “I thought, ‘What a bad-mannered person.’ ” They were married in October 1987. Though his tours to hotspots like Croatia and Serbia took him away for months at a time, they were happy. “Our marriage had more ups than downs,” she says. They shared a love for animals. “We are on our third dog now,” says Barb. Friends took to asking them about their “kids.” Says one, “It was Pete who taught me true compassion for animals.” The couple adored Italy. On their last visit there, Barb bought him yet another Saint Barbara medallion. “Pete wasn’t a religious man,” Barb says, “but when he wore his dogtags, he hung the patron saint of military engineers around his neck with his wedding ring. Whenever he lost one — and he did that on numerous occasions — I would say, ‘See? She gave up her life for you.’ ”

Never self-conscious (“I saw that boy naked more times than I saw my missus — don’t put that in,” says an army buddy), Pete always had dirt under his nails and delighted in homely work clothes. If pals called his heavy black-and-red checked vest a “Newfoundland dinner jacket,” he didn’t mind. Such pragmatism extended to his work. In Afghanistan, “when bigwigs came over and asked us how it was going,” says an old commander, “Pete would actually tell them.”Whether from Kabul or Kandahar, Pete always made it home to Chilliwack and the old house on Vedder Mountain where he and Barb, who was stationed in Edmonton, planned to retire. Fellow soldiers attribute his durability to supreme competence and an unruffled, easygoing manner. “You could throw Pete in the middle of a desert with no water or food and he would come out smiling — but he would complain about it later,” says one. And he could get out of scrapes. Pete was plowing a snow-filled path on a mountain top near Kabul when a back tire slid into the abyss. He dropped the bucket to “carve himself to a stop,” says a friend. Still, after two tours, Pete, now a Master Corporal, refused a new posting to Afghanistan, instead taking a quiet support-unit job in Chilliwack. Some of his comrades struggled with post-combat stress. “I’m not going on the Crazy Train,” said Pete, who relaxed by fixing up his home and growing blueberries and peaches.

On Sat., Aug. 2, Pete and his boss, Master Warrant Officer Terry Haley, were in his basement blasting away a cement wall, part of a plan to add a second storey. “Everything was done properly,” says Haley. Pete had even dug a trench on the wall’s exterior so it would fall out. Instead, when he removed an incidental piece of plywood, the wall fell in. Pete was buried in tons of cement from mid-chest down and died at the scene. Says Barb: “I told him to take the Saint Barbara medal with him when he did the digging. But I don’t think he had it on.”

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