Tuesday, May 6, 2014

May 9th is the National Day of Honour as Canada commemorates the efforts of its military in Afghanistan

The casket carrying the body of Pte. Tyler William Todd is carried to a transport plane on Monday April 12, 2010, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Canadian and NATO soldiers attended a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield for Pte. Todd, who was killed by a roadside bomb.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Murray Brewster)

By Guest Blogger, Peter

May 9 is the National Day of Honour – a day that commemorates the end of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.  I remember how I felt when Canada suffered its first four casualties on April 17, 2002 – the infamous Tarnak Farm incident.  

I'm not sure when I first learned of the repatriation processions along Hwy 401, but I was compelled to attend, to pay my respects for our troops' ultimate sacrifice.  I didn't know what to expect the first time I stood on Liverpool Rd. bridge in Pickering.  With sadness in my heart, I knew I would return again.  I do recall thinking that perhaps, with time, subsequent processions would not make me feel so ill at ease.  That was a naive notion, because with each repatriation, I felt worse than the prior one; especially painful were those with multiple hearses,

I don't know how many processions I witnessed, forty, maybe fifty; the number is immaterial.  On any given day, if the early morning news informed me of a fallen soldier, I knew I had to block off my calendar at 3 pm two days hence.  On the days our soldiers were brought back to Trenton AFB, my routine was the same.  In the mornings, I had to catch the 526 am train at Pickering station; on a busy day, it was the 445 am bus.  In the afternoons I had to race to Union Station to catch the LSE 1513 train in order to arrive back in Pickering and stand waiting on the bridge shortly after 4 pm.

It's very noisy standing on Liverpool Rd. bridge overlooking Hwy. 401; with time, I learned to tune out the din from the traffic below.  Other people who waited would talk to one another; I preferred to stand in silence with my flag unfurled.  Waiting involved gazing at Brock Rd. bridge, some 2 km. to the east, and watching for the fire truck parked there to signal the approaching cavalcade.  During that time, I would think about the youthful faces and the names of the soldiers I had seen and read about in the media.  I tried to comprehend what it must be like for the families and friends of the deceased knowing their loved ones had been taken from this earth without a word of farewell.  I failed in that regard; because I could draw on no experiences of my own as a baseline for comparison.  Regrettably, I am able to do that now, because I had to share this news.

When the repatriation procession would appear in the distance, I was never prepared for the gut wrenching feeling it gave me.  To this day, watching any video about the Highway of Heroes, like this NBC news report by Canadian correspondent Kevin Tibbles, evokes deep emotions.  On December 15, 2011, I watched CBC's Connect with Mark Kelley in which he interviewed Captain Wayne Johnston who was responsible for bringing home our fallen soldiers during the height of the campaign.  It was a heart-wrenching discussion that revealed the effects of the stress the captain had endured during his tenure.

As the aforementioned NBC news report stated, Americans are less open about their fallen soldiers than we are, but I believe that attitude is changing, slowly.  I was fortunate enough to take in Jerome Bell's performance of Halo (a tribute to American armed forces) in a packed Opal Theater on the Oasis of the Seas; his Aqua Theater performance is here.  When he was finished, I rose – as if instinctively – for a standing ovation.  The problem was only one other person did the same.  A fellow Canadian?  I don't know, but we stood our ground, and ever so slowly, the rest of the audience rose to their feet, too.

I hope we can all take a few moments out of our busy lives on May 9 to pay respect to those who served Canada during the Afghanistan mission.  At least visit the web site for more information and the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, too.  As a final offering, let us ponder these words from a Canadian 50 years ago.


Jules said...

Thank you for sharing that CJ. I've stopped to watch the repatriation processions as well with a heavy heart, always makes me cry thinking about the families who have lost their loved ones, and lives cut short.
In 2008 a family friend lost their son, he was killed as his vehicle drove over an IED. He was only 25 and a wonderful kid with a wonderful family.
I will definately take a few moments to pay respect on May 9th.

C.J. Smith said...

We really have to thank Peter for putting this together. It's beautiful.

Zoe English Kharpertian said...

Bravo! Thank you, Peter. These fallen heroes deserve the utmost respect. God bless.

Bicky said...

What a wonderful, albeit sad, read. Thank you for sharing it.

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