Canada's Fallen Soldiers
in Afghanistan

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Last Updated October 29th, 2006: Forty-two Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Friends made a solemn pact

NICK PRON - Apr. 21, 2002.

April 21, 2002 Page: A1 Section:News Edition:MET Length:553 Friends made a solemn pact Pte. Michael Frank, his eyes swollen and red-rimmed from crying, talked about the special pact he and his best friend, Nathan Smith, made before shipping out to Kandahar.

"We didn't tell our wives about it, but if anything happened to Nathan I would bring him home, and he would do the same for me," Frank said, waiting while the hearse carrying his buddy was stopped briefly outside the Toronto morgue.

"So that's why I'm here now. You bring your own home. It's not exactly the greatest of times."

The 24-year-old native of Barrie, Ont., was one of five "escorts" who flew home from Afghanistan with the bodies of their four fallen comrades, Pte. Smith, 27, and Pte. Richard Green, 22, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 25, and Sgt. Marc Leger, 29.

The bodies and five escorts - Frank, Pte. Simon Hughes, Cpl. Kent Schmidt and Jan Rube, and Sgt. Ken Dunn - arrived at CFB Trenton yesterday morning aboard a gunmetal-gray Canadian Forces Airbus.

Following a ceremony at the base, the funeral cortege - four hearses, two limousines and a military police car - travelled to Toronto where they were joined by five Toronto police cruisers for the trip up Bay St. to the coroner's building on Grosvenor St.

Frank said everyone in Smith's platoon knew of the pact between the two friends, and afterwards they asked him to "bring him home."

Still wearing his green battle fatigues, his army boots caked in mud, Frank talked about the grief he felt when he learned his long-time friend had been killed. The two friends had been making plans to finish off the basement of Frank's home, north of Toronto, and then fill it with memorabilia from their military experiences.

Frank smiled briefly when he explained that although he and his friend used the term wife, both were referring to each other's fiancees.

"I can't even tell you the time when I found out," he continued. "It was like one in the morning Zulu time. When I found out I was just sick. It made me ill. You don't know what to say. You don't know how to react."

Frank and Hughes, an escort for his friend, Green, emerged briefly from the hearses that were parked in a laneway outside the morgue, waiting their turns to drive the remains into an underground landing at the coroner's building.

Both men, wearing black armbands, expressed their thanks to all the support and sympathy they have received from fellow Canadians since their friends were killed.

"It has been really special," Frank said.

"Just excellent," added Hughes, 32. "And we appreciate it very much."

During the past 17 hours, during the flight from Afghanistan and the two-hour road trip to Toronto from Trenton, Frank said his mind has been filled with thoughts about what he will say to Smith's family, and his friend's fiancee, Jodi.

"I've been having a hard time, because we were friends in the military and in our civilian lives," Frank said. "Your first instinct is, 'I've lost my friend' and I wonder how his fiancee is doing. Then I thought about what I would say to the families, both his and Jodi's.

"A million things go through your head. I thought about why it happened. You just wish it wasn't them. You wish it never happened."

Paratrooper gives final salute to fallen comrade

KELLY TOUGHILL - Apr. 26, 2002.

HUBBARDS, N.S. - Just before a Canadian army paratrooper sails out the open door of a plane into the rushing wind of freefall, another soldier taps his shoulder from behind in a gesture of good luck for the journey to come.

Yesterday, in a church packed with mourners, Pte. Simon Hughes knocked hard on the casket of his buddy, Pte. Richard Green, and then, in a voice hoarse with emotion, barked a final command: "Have a good one, Airborne!"

More than 500 people came to this picturesque village along Nova Scotia's South Shore yesterday for the last burial of four Canadian soldiers killed April 17 by "friendly fire" when a U.S. plane dropped a 500-pound bomb on a night-time training exercise near Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan.

They filled 150-year-old St. Luke's Anglican Church more than an hour before the service began, standing nose-to-nose in a basement hall, and toe-to-toe in a choir closet. Almost 300 people waited outside to pay their respects to the boy who grew up in Mill Cove, just down the road.

There were cousins and aunts and scores of friends from high school. There were dignitaries, and the Canadian army's top brass. And there were people who never knew him at all.

"I just wanted to pay my respects to a fallen comrade," said Percy Grant, who drove across the province to attend the funeral.

Inside the church, Padre Jack Barrett remembered Green as "one of Hubbards' finest citizens and now a hero to many Canadians."

He said the 22-year-old paratrooper "laid down his life in pursuit of justice, freedom and peace," but also warned that no amount of pride or honour in his life will take away the pain of his death.

Green, known as "Ricky" to his friends, was remembered yesterday as a man who liked to live life on the edge, a quiet, soft-spoken soldier who was "wicked at pool" and who relentlessly pursued his dream of being a paratrooper.

Hughes remembered how proud Green was the day he qualified for paratrooper school, how hard the test was and how Green never hesitated, never even stopped to catch his breath.

Michael MacDonald was a home-town mentor to Green who helped train the teen for military service. He remembered visiting Green at his base, how the young soldier sailed out of the sky on a parachute's wings, then sauntered over to his mentor with a grin, stuffing the chute under his arm.

"Just another day at the office," Green said to MacDonald joyfully.

"Ricky died living life to the fullest," Barrett told mourners.

"He loved what he was doing."

Green was only a young teen when he settled on a career in the army. From that moment on, he began preparing to enter the service, running kilometres along the twisting road that follows the shore between Hubbards and his home.

Mourners retraced the route yesterday as they followed his coffin to a small cemetery in Fox Point, where he was laid to rest.

With red-winged blackbirds singing from bare treetops and a bugler sounding Reveille, mourners took turns covering his coffin in flowers, notes and personal mementos.

Green's 17-year-old fiancee, Miranda Boutilier, left a note and a red rose on his coffin, then fell to her knees in tears.

Green was one of four members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry who died in Afghanistan. Yesterday, 47 members of the Edmonton-based group helped give their comrade a full military funeral, standing at sharp attention as his coffin entered and left the church, and firing a three-rifle volley beside the grave.

Green was the fourth soldier buried this week. Funeral services were held earlier for Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer in Toronto, Pte. Nathan Smith in Dartmouth, N.S., and Cpl. Marc Leger in Lancaster, Ont.

Admittedly Afghanistan is nothing like it was during World War II.

For example, see the documentary film "The Greatest Raid of All Time". You can watch it by reading the blog post How to Walk Yourself Fit and scrolling down to the YouTube video at the bottom. In the video it talks about British commandoes speed marching tens of miles while carrying a 60 lb pack on their backs. These days soldiers just drive from place to place, making themselves targets for roadside bombs.

It kind of makes you nostalgic for the simplicity of WWII. What a weird thing to say. But it does. More grit, more determination, more courage, more blood and guts. Today the biggest sources of deaths in the military is suicide and friendly fire (eg. American troops accidentally shooting Canadian troops). That film is an eye opener for what wars used to be like and how much more courageous our soldiers had to be.

Nathan Smith - Killed in 2002

Richard Green - Killed in 2002

Marc Leger - Killed in 2002

Ainsworth Dyer - Killed in 2002

The bomb that shook a country

ALLAN THOMPSON - Apr. 27, 2002.

Away from the dust and commotion of the Canadian base at Kandahar airfield, Sgt. Marc Leger sits down in a makeshift Internet cafe. He stares briefly at the glowing computer screen, then taps out an e-mail message to his wife Marley, back home in Edmonton.

He's excited that he's going to get a couple of days of R&R soon. But most of all, he's looking forward to getting home this summer, to spend more time with his wife. They lost a baby just before he shipped out for Kandahar in February.

Marley was about three months pregnant when she had the miscarriage and they've talked about trying again to start a family.

"I love you very much," he writes. "Can't wait to get home and spend the summer, have that vacation."

Then he hits SEND.

In the hours and days since a Canadian soldier's final message home sped between continents, the aftermath from a few horrifying moments on a desert plain in Afghanistan has seized a nation. The chain of events triggered when a bomb dropped in error by an American F-16 pilot killed four Canadian paratroopers and injured eight others in an orange burst of heat and shrapnel has brought Canada's military back into the spotlight.

It's made some Canadians think about their armed forces in a whole new way and sparked an unexpected - and, for some, a perplexing - outpouring of sorrow and emotion.

There has been anger, too, and questions about Canada's role in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, doubtless fuelled by a concern for this country's seemingly inexorable slide into greater integration with the giant to the south; a giant whose leader was apparently so oblivious to a neighbour's pain that it took him more than a day to publicly say he was sorry for the deaths.

While the news story continues to unfold, it is worth stepping back to reconstruct the events of that night in Afghanistan and Canada, and the next few dramatic days. What follows is drawn from the stream of news stories that have become the first draft of another chapter in this country's narrative.

Leger pauses for a moment, then leaves the computer to join his buddies outside. It is Wednesday, April 17. For the soldiers of Alpha Company, 3rd battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, it's a day like any other on a mission that's settled into its own routine.

Blistering heat. Awful food. Some excitement now and then on a "combat" mission to help the Americans hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts.

Leger volunteers to take part in an overnight training exercise at a place called Tarnac Puhl, a bombed-out Al Qaeda installation of mud walls and shattered huts that coalition forces now use as a practice range.

Technically, he isn't required to go on the exercise, but the company needs safety officers and Leger, who has a reputation for coming through when people need him, says he'll go.

Among the tents that make up the Canadian sector of the coalition base at Kandahar airfield, about 100 soldiers from A Company gather late in the day for a briefing on the live-fire exercise. The plan is to go over tactics and test weapons for their next run-in with Al Qaeda.

Facing an enemy with no air force, no one thinks death can come from the sky.

They head out in armoured vehicles with C-9 rifles mounted on top and carry their own weapons. In the early morning hours of Thursday, under a clear, moonlit sky, they go through their paces. They're practising mock assaults, small groups of soldiers charging toward an objective while their comrades lay down covering fire with rifles or light machineguns. They use live ammunition so the training can be realistic.

Behind one of the muddy walls, Cpl. Chris Kopp is lying on the dusty brown earth beside his friend, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, waiting their turn to join the exercise. The pair are lying on their backs, looking up at the stars in the desert sky and having the kind of conversation you might expect of two friends on a camping trip.

Out on the field just behind them are muzzle flashes, some grenade explosions and the glowing red lines of tracer fire.

High above, two American F-16 fighter jets from the 183rd Fighter Wing of the National Guard are on a routine patrol. The pilots are reservists, called up for the war on terrorism.

One of the pilots sees the muzzle flashes or some other fire from the ground below and thinks he's under attack.

For some reason, he doesn't know he's flying over a recognized training area and that the soldiers below are "friendlies." He communicates with command and control, asks permission to fire; the controller tells him not to fire, but rather to mark his target and circle around again.

Below, Cpl. Shane Brennan can hear the scream of the F-16 engines.

On his second pass, the pilot again sees flashes of light, perhaps tracer fire that he assumes is coming his way. In a millisecond, he makes the individual decision to drop a bomb, deciding he needs to protect himself. He releases a 500-pound, laser-guided weapon.

For some reason, they call this thing a smart bomb.

It is 1: 55 a.m. in Kandahar, Thursday, April 18, 2002.

In an instant, the world changes for the Canadian soldiers on the ground at Tarnac Puhl.

"We could hear a jet coming in and it just got louder and louder. And then from the front, maybe 100 metres, 125, 150 at the max, just an enormous explosion. And the last thing I remember was seeing just the flash of the orangish, reddish flames," Cpl. Brennan recounts later.

"It did come out of the blue," says Lt. Alastair Luft. "I understood what it was, but it didn't make a lot of sense as to how that could have happened."

The blast throws M. Cpl. Stanley Clark six metres back down a hill. "I saw a big orange flash," he remembers. "All I recall is it felt like I got slammed in the chest." Incoherent and confused, Clark thinks maybe one of the guns has malfunctioned.

"I could feel the blast and the heat," says M. Cpl. Rob Coates. He'd taken an emergency medical response course just before leaving Canada and was only 50 metres from the explosion. At first, he thinks an anti-tank round has gone off.

After the explosion, Kopp's first impulse is to run toward the vehicles parked at Tarnac Puhl. But he's warned off by Warrant Officer Billy Bolen, who is ordering troops away from the vehicles because he thinks the jet may come in for a second strike. The ammunition truck nearby is full of C-4 explosives. "Get the hell away from the truck," Bolen yells at his troops.

"There was a little bit of a blackout after that, and then I remember getting in front of the vehicles because everyone was yelling 'he's coming around again, he's coming around again,' and then everyone was yelling 'get away from the vehicles.' It was just chaos," Brennan recalls.

Sgt.-Maj. Al Whitehall frantically radios back to the Kandahar airfield base to order the F-16 to stop firing, then rushes to the scene of the explosion, sending troops in all directions to secure the area.

Bolen comes across Sgt. Lorne Ford, who has a horrible leg wound and eye injury. He applies a field dressing, then moves to the next man, all the while ordering a medical evacuation helicopter by radio.

"There was lots of confusion there, but it was an organized confusion. People don't see this shit every day. There was a lot of yelling and screaming," Bolen says later.

Everybody is trying to grapple with the confusion and the chaos and make sense of it and deal with what needs to be done.

In the next hour, there are frantic efforts to find the injured.

Coates, Kopp and a medic, Cpl. Jean de la Bourdonayye, work on Ford's leg wound. They fumble to insert an intravenous tube, but Ford is slipping into shock. They cut off his uniform to better dress the wounds, then apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Kopp uses a grease pencil to mark the time on Ford's forehead so doctors at the base would know when the tourniquet was applied.

It's 2: 24 a.m. in Kandahar, or 5: 25 p.m. in Ottawa.

Clark, the section second-in-command, recalls being dazed and "bumbling around." Moving on from Ford, Kopp comes upon M. Cpl. Curtis Hollister, from Cupar, Sask. He is alone, slumped over and suffering from chest and abdominal pains. Kopp removes Hollister's flak vest and cuts away his uniform.

A helicopter arrives to begin evacuating wounded to the camp where Canadian and U.S. doctors work through the night. As Kopp continues looking for casualties, he finds the body of Pte. Richard Green, 22, of Mill Cove, N.S., and covers his dead colleague with a blanket.

Kopp knows that Green had been planning to ask his girlfriend Miranda Boutilier to marry him and had bought an engagement ring.

Later, they find the other bodies: Leger, 29, of Lancaster, Ont., Toronto's Dyer, 25, and Pte. Nathan Smith, 26, of Ostrea Lake, N.S.

In Ottawa, it is around 6 p.m., still Wednesday evening because of the time difference, when first word of the tragedy reaches the operations centre at National Defence headquarters. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Ray Henault begins a round of briefings with U.S. counterparts and officials at Central Command in Tampa, Fla. First, he's told two are dead, then four. Henault's executive assistant calls in an aide to Defence Minister Art Eggleton.

Eggleton is at his Parliament Hill office, in the West Block. He's told over the phone to return to national efence headquarters for an urgent briefing. He can't be given more information over the phone at this point.

It is about 7: 10 p.m. when Eggleton is briefed by Henault, and preparations are made for Eggleton to call Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who was spending the evening with his wife Aline at his Harrington Lake retreat in the Gatineau Hills.

Shaken, struggling for words, Eggleton speaks to the Prime Minister at about 7: 30 p.m.

Within minutes, U.S. President George W. Bush calls Chretien to express condolences and pledge co-operation with an investigation. Around the same time, Eggleton is speaking with U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In Ottawa's exclusive Rockcliffe neighbourhood, over dinner at the home of American ambassador Paul Cellucci, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley is toasting Canada-U.S. relations when the ambassador is called away to take an urgent phone call. Within moments, the pager that Manley carries alerts him - and the other cabinet ministers at the dinner, including Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham and Finance Minister Paul Martin - to news of the tragedy.

Eggleton and Henault were on Cellucci's guest list that night, but didn't come to dinner because they'd already had preliminary reports of the accident.

At about 10 p.m., Ottawa time, word comes that the four victims have been identified and the process of notifying next-of-kin starts. Eggleton's press secretary, Randy Mylyk, begins to alert journalists that four Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan and promises more information later.

Just after midnight, a sombre Henault appears in a press theatre at National Defence Headquarters to formally break the news to the nation. He speaks in the measured tone that is his trademark, but the words he uses speak volumes and he openly questions how an American pilot could have done such a thing over a recognized training area.

It is already morning in Kandahar, where Canadian soldiers gather in front of a bulletin board outside the base public affairs office for full details. One soldier is slumped in a chair, weeping.

They read the names of the dead.

They learn that Sgt. Lorne Ford required emergency eye surgery for shrapnel injuries. M. Cpl. Stanley Clark and Cpl. Shane Brennan received minor injuries and were able to remain in Kandahar.

Cpl. Brian Decaire, M. Cpl. Curtis Hollister, Cpl. Brent Perry, Pte. Norman Link and Cpl. Rene Paquette suffered shrapnel wounds and were among those to be evacuated.

Back in Edmonton, it is still Wednesday evening. Just before 10 p.m., Brig.-Gen. Ivan Fenton arrives at the home of Marley Leger. She doesn't yet know she's a widow, but the horrible truth hits her the moment she sees the general at the door.

"I hadn't been watching the news, so I didn't expect it. It was like the movies. I mean, three men came to the door and took their berets off and said, 'There's been an accident.' And I said, 'Is he okay?' and they said, 'No,' and I said, 'Is he gone?' And they said, "Yes, I'm sorry.'"

An hour or so later, in Halifax, Capt. Jamie Creelman sets out in the early morning hours of Thursday after being woken by a call from his superiors, assigning him to find Green's next-of-kin.

"When I finally did find them, three hours later, I didn't have to say anything. They were devastated just to see me. When a Canadian Forces officer in full military dress knocks on your door at 5 in the morning, and your son is overseas, you know what's going on," Creelman says.

In Winnipeg, Lauren Paquette cuddles her newborn daughter and wonders if her husband is among those killed in the bombing. As it turns out, the 32-year-old was among the wounded.

Brennan's mother Debbie Brossoit hears about the accident on the morning news as she wakes up in Collingwood. But it is nearly two hours before she knows that her son is alive. "They were the worst two hours of my life," she says later.

Just before 8 a.m., the phone rings. It is her son on the line from Kandahar. "I'm okay, Mom, please calm down," he says. "Please stop crying, I love you. This is my job."

In Kandahar, soldiers from Alpha Company, who are used to lining up for everything, now line up for interviews to tell Canadian Press reporter Stephen Thorne about their fallen comrades.

They knew Leger, Green, Dyer and Smith as friends, family men, comrades in arms bonded by the unique distinction shared by soldiers who jump from airplanes.

Dyer, the Toronto native, was recalled as a big man, a gentle giant, friendly with a big smile who never had a bad thing to say about anyone.

Leger was the company quartermaster, a talented and resourceful scrounger who would always come through when he was needed most.

They recall Green as a mid-sized, redhead who was sun-sensitive and covered in freckles. On one trip, doctors told him to stay out of the sun; on this one, they told him to get more. The troops called him "Sunboy."

Smith was wise beyond his years; he never complained.

Sometime that morning, the flag on Parliament Hill is lowered to half-mast and a period of remarkable national mourning begins.

At 10 a.m., the Prime Minister leads tributes in the House of Commons. The political expressions of condolence from party leaders are studded with hard questions about how such a thing could happen, most notably from Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark.

Later, at the Princess Patricia's base in Edmonton, Fenton chokes with emotion as he reads out the list of those killed.

In an emotional interview in Kandahar, Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran says his troops are "shaken but no less committed." The survivors are "shaken up and angry," he says. "They're confused. There are all sorts of emotions they're going to have to spend the next 10 years sorting out."

Military police from the National Investigation Service have already begun their work on the ground in Kandahar looking for basic facts. And Chretien tells Eggleton he wants the retired chief of defence, Maurice Baril, to head up a sweeping board of inquiry into the accident. Eggleton and defence chief Henault announce the appointment at a press conference.

Six of the injured soldiers are flown to the U.S. medical facility at Ramstein, Germany. Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson greets the wounded on arrival there, an event broadcast live in Canada.

From his bed at Landstuhl hospital, survivor Cpl. Brian Decaire says to a newspaper reporter: "It's a shitty thing that happened and a dumb mistake by that pilot.... I don't care, that's a dumb mistake. I hope he's hurting now. There are a lot of families that are hurting."

In Washington, Bush has five media opportunities during a particularly hectic day. He doesn't mention the Canadian deaths, even though he spoke with Chretien the night before and his office has issued a statement in his name, expressing condolences and sorrow. At the last media opportunity of the day, CBC-TV correspondent David Halton shouts out a question to Bush about the Canadian deaths. Almost dismissively, Bush says he already spoke to the Canadian prime minister about that.

The next day, Friday, Manley is chased by reporters to his office door and mildly chides Bush for not speaking out. It would have provided some comfort to the Canadian families to have heard something from the president, he says.

After his inexplicable silence the day before, Bush goes out of his way to approach reporters during a tour of a Secret Service facility near Washington and publicly apologizes for the Canadian deaths.

"It was a terrible accident," the president says. "Parents and loved ones of the soldiers have my most heartfelt sympathy and I wish we could bring them back. We can't."

That evening, on the tarmac in Kandahar, the dead soldiers begin their journey home.

The commander, Stogran, carries a hand-held microphone, walks up to each coffin and gives it the kind of tap a jumpmaster would give a paratrooper before a jump: "You're okay, jumper," he says. "Have a good one."

Then, "Airborne," he growls.

The four metal coffins are draped with Canadian flags and borne by soldiers in green camouflage and burgundy berets. A piper plays "Amazing Grace," then "The Maple Leaf Forever."

The scene is bathed in light emanating from the open cargo door of the massive aircraft.

The coffins are carried up a gangplank into the gaping, shining mouth of the American C-17 Hercules. It looks as if they are being swallowed up.

Across the continents, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and other family and friends wait for their boys to come home.

Saturday morning, in brilliant sunshine, the Prime Minister and other government officials join the grieving families at Trenton air force base. The Hercules lands. A lone piper plays a slow march as the four flag-draped coffins arrive on Canadian soil. They're home.

Robbie Beerenfenger - Killed in 2003

Robert Short - Killed in 2003

Jamie Murphy - Killed in 2004

Braun Scott - Killed in 2005

1,000 gather for soldier's funeral

CANADIAN PRESS - Oct. 16, 2006.

LONDON, Ont. — The 40th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan since 2002 was remembered today for his passion for the Canadian Forces and how he had embraced his profession.

Pete Sanford, the godfather of Trooper Mark Wilson, tried to help family and friends come to grips with their loss, telling those gathered at the funeral for the fallen soldier that it was time to celebrate Wilson's life.

"We all have our special moments that we have shared with Mark which we will always cherish," said Sanford.

Sanford also spoke of Wilson's love for the Canadian Forces, which he joined four years ago.

"Training and exercises for some were trials of endurance, but for Mark, they were the personification of his passions."

About 1,000 people packed a military funeral for Wilson at Mary Immaculate Church in the southwestern Ontario city of London, where a few hundred more gathered outside to listen to the service on speakers.

Among the overflow crowd was a group of about 100 school children carrying paper Canadian flags and several veterans.

Wilson, 39, was killed in a roadside bomb attack over the Thanksgiving long weekend about 25 kilometres west of Kandahar.

He was a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons based in Petawawa, Ontario.

Wilson leaves behind his wife, Dawn, and two sons, Joshua and Benjamin.

Many London, Ont., homes and businesses have put up yellow ribbons to show their support for the Wilson family and for all Canadian soldiers serving overseas.

A book of condolences will also been set up at London city hall until Wednesday for those who want to leave wishes for the family.

Diplomat Glyn Berry - Killed in 2006

Timothy Wilson - Killed in 2006

Paul Davis - Killed in 2006

Myles Mansell - Killed in 2006

From Vimy to Afghanistan:

Why do we forget that Canada has a strong military tradition?

J.D.M. STEWART - Apr. 2, 2006.

"Across the leagues of the Atlantic the heartstrings of our Canadian nation will reach through time to these graves in France; we shall never let pass away the spirit bequeathed to us by those who fell."

— Prime Minister Arthur Meighen in 1921 at the unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice at Vimy

Canada, despite what Arthur Meighen said, can be a forgetful country.

Half way around the world right now, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry is engaged in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting a war in an attempt to bring security to, and breathe life into, a fledgling democracy. Pte. Robert Costall of that regiment died last week in the effort.

Meanwhile, one week from today marks the 89th anniversary of one of the country's greatest military triumphs: Vimy Ridge. And the Princess Pats were there, too, fighting for Canadian interests.

The significance of that symmetry seems lost on Canadians today. We find ourselves in an era during which decades of relative peace have combined with an ignorance of our past and a substantial dose of anti-Americanism to virtually wipe out any appreciation for the fact this country has a military tradition. Vimy and Afghanistan are both part of it.

On April 9, 1917, a cold and miserable Easter morning, Canadian troops courageously stormed the ridge at Vimy, near Arras, in northeastern France. Capturing the ridge had been deemed a near-impossible challenge by the French and British troops who had previously tried — at the cost of 150,000 men — to wrest the strategic point from the Germans. By April 14, 1917, the Canadians had it secured.

But what a cost. There were more than 10,000 casualties at Vimy, including 3,598 killed. The sacrifice was immense — so catastrophic that the late Pierre Berton, in his 1986 book Vimy, concluded that it wasn't worth it. Who knows how many outstanding teachers, artists, engineers or hockey players we may have lost to the guns of war?

Of course, Canada's victory — and its staggering loss — can only be redeemed if we remember why we fought and use it to help us understand the country. It is only through a contemplation of our own history, and events such as Vimy, that we can fully put into context the current participation of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, including the storied PPCLI.

Throughout our history, Canadians have responded to the call of duty. At the turn of the last century, in the South African War, 7,000 volunteered and 277 died — more than half from disease — in Canada's first international conflict.

From that point, Canadians have consistently responded to the call to arms, and there has often been a cost paid in lives: more than 60,000 in World War I; 42,000 in World War II; more than 500 in Korea between 1950 and 1953.

Additionally, we participated in the UN-mandated Iraq war in 1991 and in NATO's bombing of Kosovo in 1999. And the country is doing it again today in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the effort to nurture democracy there.

Canada's engagement in these armed conflicts has a meaning. It shows us to be a country that will pitch in and do its bit when the need arises. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the point in his visit last month to Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

"Standing up for these core Canadian values may not always be easy at times," he said. "It's never easy for the men and women on the front lines. And there may be some who want to cut and run. But cutting and running is not your way. It's not my way. And it's not the Canadian way. We don't make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble. We don't and we won't."

Harper's comments in Afghanistan echo those of Canada's World War I leader, Robert Borden, although not nearly so eloquently. "We must not forget that days may come when our patience, our endurance and our fortitude will be tried to the utmost," Borden said at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. "In those days let us see to it that no heart grows faint and that no courage be found wanting..."

So why the tepid reaction to the deployment of Canadian troops in Afghanistan? Why do we seem to want to view ourselves only as peacekeepers?

"I think it comes from our desire to be different from the U.S.," says J. L. Granatstein, Canada's foremost military historian. "We've always said that the Americans fight wars and we keep the peace. And I think it goes back to 1956 and the Suez Crisis. Pearson's Nobel peace prize persuaded Canadians we had something good to do in the world and that we could change the world."

In 1956, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser seized the Suez Canal from the British and French, it set off a diplomatic firestorm in the Middle East. The world moved closer and closer to an all-out war involving Israel, Egypt, the British and the French.

Lester B. Pearson, Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs, got permission from Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to bring forward a resolution to the UN asking for "an emergency international United Nations force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities."

Pearson was determined to "do everything [he] could to have it adopted," he wrote in his memoirs, "which would end the fighting before it spread — in short, to establish a UN peace and police force."

The resolution passed easily, and the United Nations Emergency Force — peacekeeping — was born.

When the Nobel committee awarded Pearson its peace prize in 1957, the Globe and Mail opined that what Canada's future prime minister had accomplished "was an example of what could be done — with Canada's leadership both in precept and personnel." The die was cast.

Since Canada's first participation in peacekeeping in Egypt in 1956, the country has adopted it as one of its raison d'κtres, participating in virtually every UN mission since. The Canadian public likes it: We have built peacekeeping memorials, issued commemorative stamps and coins, and taught children to recognize the blue helmet.

"The extraordinary thing about all of this is that at no time did we ever have more than about 5 per cent of our military power in peacekeeping," says Granatstein. "The bulk of it was in NATO, NORAD — in other words — alliances. But it became part of our national self-delusion."

It's a battle I have fought as a history teacher for years. Students walk into class with a well-developed idea of Canada as a peacekeeping nation. They have heard about it many times. But the military strength and sacrifice shown at places such as Vimy or Normandy are not on the radar. It's no wonder many Canadians were cool to the current mission in Afghanistan: They just don't have the context in which to place it.

It is a circumstance not lost on putative Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff. The former Harvard professor and current MP noted in a 2004 interview that "one of the biggest social changes in Canadian life since 1945 has been the removal of the memory of military sacrifice from our national culture."

Canada currently has roughly 2,700 personnel deployed abroad, the vast majority (2,200) in Afghanistan in what the Prime Minister's Office consistently reminds us is a UN-mandated mission. Our forces are also doing naval exercises for NATO in the North Sea, and there is a contingent in Sudan.

But our history is important, too. As the anniversary of one of Canada's seminal moments draws near, it is worth reminding Canadians about what transpired in the nation's past — about the "spirit bequeathed to us" that Meighen said we would never let fade.

Vimy Ridge is a part of the country's distinguished military tradition — a seamless link from yesterday to today, the understanding of which is so vital to deriving meaning from Canada's current and future international engagements.

This is not to argue that Canada is a warlike nation. We are not. But the country did not arrive in Afghanistan from nowhere.

"We have a strong military tradition," says Granatstein. "We've been amateurs at war but we've learned on the job. We have never fought an aggressive war, but only for our allies, for democracy, for freedom, and we've done it in a wholehearted, damn-the-torpedoes way."

At Vimy Ridge, at the highest point of the hallowed stretch of sacred land, stands the most impressive war memorial in all of Europe. Soaring into the sky, this monument to Canadian sacrifice leaves anyone who has seen it filled with awe and humbled by the thoughts of what transpired on the surrounding undulating terrain. Among the several figures carved into the magnificent memorial are four representing Peace, Justice, Truth and Knowledge. One might be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate expression of Canadian values.

Pte. Costall's death means 11 Canadians have perished in Afghanistan since 2002 while fighting for such values. But our history tells us that that is part of what we do. We will fight if the cause is just; we will broker peace when we can; we will open our doors to the world for those who would like to be a part of one of the most tolerant societies on the planet.

"If you have any children, teach them right from wrong," said Vimy veteran Harry Hassall at a 1992 ceremony at the memorial. "And tell them what a great land they have and what it cost to maintain that prosperity, and the honour and the glory."

Vimy was part of that cost. So, too, is Afghanistan.

Nichola Goddard - Killed in 2006

William Turner - Killed in 2006

Matthew DJ Dinning - Killed in 2006

Randy Payne - Killed in 2006

Anthony J Boneca - Killed in 2006

Jason P Warren - Killed in 2006

Francisco Gomez - Killed in 2006

Kevin Dallaire - Killed in 2006

Bryce Keller - Killed in 2006

Christopher J Reid - Killed in 2006

Raymond Arndt - Killed in 2006

Jeffrey Scott Walsh - Killed in 2006

AJ Eykelenboom - Killed in 2006

David Braun - Killed in 2006

Frank Robert Mellish - Killed in 2006

Shane Stachnik - Killed in 2006

William JJ Cushley - Killed in 2006

Mark Anthony Graham - Killed in 2006

Richard F Nolan - Killed in 2006

Glen Arnold - Killed in 2006

Shane Keating - Killed in 2006

David Byers - Killed in 2006

Keith Morley - Killed in 2006

Josh Klukie - Killed in 2006

Craig Paul Gillam - Killed in 2006

Robert TJ Mitchell - Killed in 2006

Andrew Wilson - Killed in 2006

Blake Williamson - Killed in 2006

Darcy Tedford - Killed in 2006

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