Today I am going to talk about a somewhat similar event that happened the day after that blog. This is when 19 serving or former injured Canadian Forces members, or attached to said forces, walked, wheeled and rode almost twice the above noted distance. This being in honour of the Canadian injured or disabled and well over 40,000 CF members and yet more attached to the forces and having served in Afghanistan. The tasking started 12 years ago and ended just short of two months ago. (The biggest commitment of forces for us since WWll.)
This was a costly mission for Canada in more ways than one. The most significant being the loss of 158 men and women in uniform, 1 diplomat, 1 journalist, 2 civilian contractors and an additional 40 US troops under our command.
It was only a month after the 9-11 attacks that Canada's first 100 members were dispatched. Within 7 months of having "Canadian boots on the ground," we would suffer our first casualties. Four soldiers shot. Not by the enemy but by the friendly forces in a horrible mistaken firefight.
Over the years it became a reality that Canadians were not only doing their bit for the cause but were also paying with their very lives more and more. Brian Williams, the likeable and well respected NBC news anchor would bring to his American audiences an article about the costs Canada was paying. His piece can be still seen on the net and tells of our Highway of Heroes from Trenton Ontario to Toronto where the remains of the deceased soldiers travelled on arrival back home from war. This can be seen at... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc6t6HLt7vA
As moving, is a very sad song written and recorded by Ontario's Jack London also called the Highway of Heroes. He would later state that the inspiration for the song was the tragic death of Captain Nichola Goddard, a Forward Observation Officer with Canadian troops in Afghanistan in 2006. She was in command of a team that came under ambush. She was killed when two rocket propelled grenades struck her command vehicle whist she was calling down artillery fire near Kandahar.
Captain Goddard was Canada's first female victim of this war, and the first female of the war to command troops into battle. She's been in the country only about 4 months. And she turned 26 just 2 weeks before her death. Jack London's very emotional song can be heard in a video at...
With some irony, I was in Ottawa with family to conduct a service for our late parents, both veterans of WWll. We were there to bury their ashes at the nation's national cemetery called Beachwood. While in the capital I toured and did research at the War Museum. One of my most vivid memories was that of the Memorial Hall.
The Memorial Hall is a rather dark room with only one entrance/exit. All the walls are concrete and have grooves on them as seen at above left and right. These are there for a purpose. They represent row after row after row of grave markers. On the left is an actual grave marker of a Canadian soldier who died in France. It is in fact the very marker of Canada's Unknown Soldier and it is mounted on the wall at eye level.
Up high on the opposite wall is a small opening... or window if you will... and the only one in the entire room. The design of the room is such that the sun will shine through this opening and on the 11th..of November...Remembrance Day...the sun will be in the proper position to shine through the opening and actually light up the grave marker of that unknown soldier, as shown at above right. As the sun moves it actually travels along the dark line on the floor in front of the marker.
On the very day that I visited this memorial... the local paper carried the story that Captain Goddard was just killed in action the day before. Someone clipped the article and taped it to the wall above the marker. It was an emotional site that I shall remember for many more years.
During the 12 years of service as part of the International Security Assistance Force, (ISAF) the flag of Canada flew high and proud over the ISAF HQ buildings in Kabul.
This image is the final parade where the Canadian Flag was lowered for the last time at the ISAF HQ. A video of the parade can be viewed at... http://globalnews.ca/news/1202538/canadian-military-involvement-in-afghanistan-formally-ends/
Six days later the last 93 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan got their feet back on the ground... IN CANADA. Their plane arrived with an escort of two CF 18 fighter jets.
With all our men and women back home, the federal government started to move forward on a plan to have a special day created in honour of those lost, and to further all those who served, including families and communities back home that did so much to support those in the war zone.
At Trenton Ontario, where the deceased members first landed, a monument was unveiled to these men and women back in 2012. It is called the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial and is located at a small park close by to both CFB Trenton and also a portion of old Hwy 401 now known as the Highway of Heroes.
The memorial consists of a soldier's silhouette overlooking two large granite Maple Leaves. That in red contains the Canadian Forces emblem and the shields of all Cdn. Provinces. That in black has etched on its surface the names of all those fallen. When unveiled over 175 families attended the ceremony and heard speeches from several dignitaries including the Minister of Veterans Affairs. There was also a flyover and opportunity for the laying of wreaths.
The provincial and territorial shields are to the right.
While the national proclamation ordering the creation of the National Day of Heroes, to be celebrated on May 9th, was yet we to come, the ceremonies really started from this park several days earlier. But more on this on Friday.