Updated Fri. Aug. 25 2006 11:36 PM ET
EDMONTON — In a rare glimpse into Canada’s grieving military heart, soldiers in two provinces invited the public Friday to share in normally private remembrance ceremonies for their fallen comrades, who were hailed as “new heroes” in the fight for democracy.
About 200 fellow soldiers — some dressed in the desert camouflage they had recently worn in Afghanistan — paraded into a cavernous hall at Edmonton Garrison while family, friends and military colleagues of the seven men recently killed in the war-ravaged country filled the bleachers to weep, pray and share memories.
Cpl. Sarah Keller, now both soldier and soldier’s widow, may have spoken for all when she talked not only of her husband Bryce, killed in a grenade attack, but also of her belief in what he was doing.
“Our sadness comes from losing so suddenly the ones we love so much, but my light will be my love and my memories of Bryce,” she said.
“I am proud to be a Canadian soldier. But more than that, I am proud to be a Canadian soldier’s wife.”
Another memorial was held at CFB Shilo in Manitoba to remember Master Cpl. Jeffrey Walsh, 33, of Regina, who died in what appears to have been an accidental shooting by a fellow soldier.
“It’s a chance to close off the incidents and grieve en masse,” said Maj. Tod Strickland in Edmonton, who knew several of the dead soldiers personally. “It’s an important part of the whole process.”
Master Cpl. Lance McFadzen reminded the Edmonton gathering that military men have two families — their own and the one they join.
“A regiment is more than just a group of men who come together to train and to fight,” he said.
“It is a long continuous chain of the living and the dead which goes back generations and binds us all together.”
Such ceremonies are usually held internally, attended only by members of the fallen soldier’s unit and family.
“But with this many casualties and with so many people wanting to be here, we decided to make it a public event,” Capt. Lou Marselje said of the Edmonton service. “Hopefully, it’s our last one.”
Various family members or colleagues took turns remembering their loved ones.
In Shilo, Master Cpl. Darryl Smith, who befriended Walsh in basic training almost 10 years ago, recalled how Walsh overcame his fear of heights by rappelling with him down the side of Smith’s sister’s apartment building in Ottawa.
“Before anyone knew what was happening, Batman and Robin were gone.”
Walsh’s father, Ben, an RCMP officer, said his son embarked on this latest mission just a week before he died with a belief in what he was doing strengthened by a previous tour in Afghanistan and an earlier tour in Kosovo.
“He wanted to try to make a change in these countries so people could live in peace, have freedom. He was well aware of the dangers and said, ‘Dad, I am very well trained,'” Walsh said.
Master Cpl. Ray Arndt was remembered at the Edmonton ceremony as a determined, persistent man who wouldn’t let a club foot keep him out of the army.
“They were very big boots to fill, even though they weren’t quite the same,” said Cpl. Ashley vanLeeuwen.
“No one made him a soldier. He was a soldier before he had the boots on.”
Stacy Ingram remembered his brother Vaughan’s courage, love of army life and the outdoors.
“(But) maybe it wasn’t the hunting and fishing he loved the most,” he said.
“Maybe it was the company he kept. Vaughan was never a man to be without his friends.
“We will always remember his friendship, wit and everlasting smile.
“Our family will never be the same without him. We will never be complete.”
Maureen Eykelenboom emphasized the importance of the job her son Cpl. Andrew Eykelenboom died trying to complete.
“Afghanistan has asked for our help and we need to be there.”
She said her family is starting a charitable foundation to help educate Afghan children.
Maj. Rich Raymond from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry said he did not know the men in life, but had come to know them through their deaths.
“I can tell you that they were all highly professional, dedicated and respected by their peers and superiors alike,” he said. “I could tell you they did well on courses and were always there to help out their friends when they needed a shoulder to lean on.”
Raymond quoted former British prime minister Winston Churchill and U.S. general George Patton, then said: “Those are old words from old soldiers for old heroes from old battles. These men are new heroes who fought new battles and deserve new words from today’s great people.”
He described one of the soldiers as a leader so determined to bring his comrades back safely that he declared, ‘If I can’t bring them all back, then I won’t come back.’
“What more can I say about a soldier with that kind of conviction?”
The seven honoured Friday in Edmonton were:
* Cpl. Andrew James Eykelenboom, 23, of Comox, B.C., a medic with the 1st Field Ambulance, killed by a suicide bomber in an attack on a resupply convoy near the town of Spin Boldak on Aug. 11.
* Master Cpl. Raymond Arndt, 31, of Edson, Alta., a reservist with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, killed when his G-Wagon and a civilian truck collided near Kandahar City on Aug. 5. Three other soldiers were injured in the accident.
* Sgt. Vaughan Ingram, 35, of the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and from Burgeo, N.L., who died after a rocket-propelled grenade attack Aug. 3 near the village of Pashmul.
* Cpl. Bryce Jeffrey Keller, 27, of Sherwood Park, Alta., and also from the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who died in the grenade attack Aug. 3 near Pashmul.
* Pte. Kevin Dallaire, 22, of Calgary, from the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, killed in the same attack.
* Cpl. Christopher Jonathan Reid, 34, of Truro, N.S., from 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, killed when his LAV III vehicle struck an improvised explosive device Aug. 3, again near Pashmul.
* Cpl. Francisco Gomez, 44, of Edmonton, 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who lost his life July 22, when a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a combat service support convoy Gomez was in near Kandahar City.
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