GANANOQUE, ONT.—It is the soldier who more than anybody else grants a nation its freedom, a close friend to Cpl. Randy Payne told a public military funeral yesterday.
“It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech,” said Cpl. Corey Gaffey, who trained at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, southeast of Edmonton, with Payne before his January departure for Afghanistan. “It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.”
The eulogy rang out from speakers on the lawn of Grace United Church to the overflow portion of the crowd in bright morning sunlight.
Inside the downtown stone building, extra chairs brought seating capacity to 500 or so. Just as many people or more attended in almost total silence outside.
A few residents of the summer resort town of Gananoque held Canadian flags in their hands. Men and women in uniform stood silently in rows, representing the armed forces and various military and civilian police forces. A colour guard of war veterans carried the Union Jack and other flags representing Canada, the Canadian provinces and the United Nations.
The only family member to address the service was Payne’s 7-year-old son, Tristan. In a tiny voice, he read a Christian story, said to have been sent with a condolence card last week, about how Jesus walks with His believers and, in the worst times, even carries them.
“Good show, buddy,” Wainwright chaplain Larry Keddie said softly to the boy at the end.
Payne, 32, had been picked to serve in Afghanistan with an elite protection detail for Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, Canadian commander of the multinational brigade in Afghanistan.
He attended a meeting between Fraser and village elders in Gombad, 75 km north of the Kandahar military base a week ago Saturday, and was driving a lightly armoured G-Wagon on his way back when it hit a roadside bomb.
The explosion killed Cpl. Matthew Dinning, Bombardier Myles Mansell and Lieut. William Turner instantly. Payne survived the initial blast but died after emergency surgery at Kandahar air base. Soldiers in two other vehicles in the convoy remained unharmed.
Mourners began to gather at the church as early as 8 a.m. for the 10 a.m. service. Proceedings unofficially began with the arrival of Payne’s grieving family, huddling together on the church lawn to await the casket.
They included Payne’s wife, Jody, son Tristan, 5-year-old daughter Jasmine, parents David and Nancy, and older brother Christopher, also in military uniform.
The casket arrived, carried by eight uniformed pallbearers. The only sound as the family followed behind was the dull hum of a generator powering a satellite television feed.
In the eulogy, Cpl. Gaffey told anecdotes of life at Wainwright, referring to his friend as “Payner” and testifying to his friend’s accomplishments in dancing, cooking spaghetti sauce and racing a dune buggy.
“He wanted to be the best military police officer he could be,” Gaffey also said of Payne. “He was the type of person who in a panic … could take a step back and quickly analyze the situation in his head … before deciding on a course of action.”
Before leaving for Afghanistan, Payne several times expressed the wish that, should he not return, his family be properly cared for, Gaffey said.
“Don’t worry my friend,” Gaffey said.
“As I stand here before you, I swear your last wish will be fulfilled.”
Payne was born to a Canadian military family at the Canadian base in Lahr, Germany, but spent most of his teenage years in Gananoque.
“He always had a smile on his face,” recalled Pat Barr, whose daughter knew Payne in high school.
After graduating high school in Gananoque, Payne took a community college course in law and security, worked for Nortel for several years and eventually followed his desire to join the Canadian forces as a military police officer.