SHERWOOD PARK, Alta. — Cpl. Bryce Keller was buried in the peaceful shade of tall evergreens Tuesday, a world away from the squalor and heat of the Afghan village where he was killed in a Taliban ambush Aug. 3.
A few dozen family and friends gathered in a funeral home in Sherwood Park, just outside Edmonton, for a private service to honour the 27-year-old affectionately known as Smithers by his military comrades.
Instead of eulogies, those gathered listened to prayers and scripture readings.
A family friend sang the John Lennon song Beautiful Boy as well as Paul McCartney’s Blackbird.
Later, at the cemetery, a military honour guard fired three volleys in salute to Keller and a bugler played the mournful notes of the Last Post.
Keller’s widow, Cpl. Sarah Keller, accepted her husband’s beret, medals and a folded Canadian flag.
“Lord, give them strength to meet the days ahead,” said Padre Bev Kean-Newhook as the mourners, including Keller’s parents and two brothers, watched as the casket was slowly lowered into his grave.
Keller and two other soldiers, Sgt. Vaughan Ingram and Pte. Kevin Dallaire, were killed during a rocket-propelled grenade attack near the village of Pashmul, a Taliban hotbed about 25 kilometres west of Kandahar City.
Cpl. Christopher Reid was killed by a separate roadside bomb that same day.
All of the soldiers were members of the Edmonton-based 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Following the service, Brig. Gen. Tim Grant commented on the fourth military funeral held in Canada for soldiers killed in Afghanistan in as many days. Three more funerals are to be held later this week.
“This is clearly a sad day for the Keller family and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment and for the Canadian Forces,” said Grant, commander of army forces in Western Canada.
“Is it unfortunate we have had the number of casualties we have had in the past two weeks? It is unfortunate, but right now it is a fact of life. We are in a difficult mission in a difficult part of the world.”
A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Edson, Alta., for Master Cpl. Raymond Arndt, who was killed in a traffic accident near Kandahar on Aug. 5.
Two other funerals are expected to be held later this week. Master Cpl. Jeffrey Walsh died when he was accidentally shot by a fellow soldier and army medic Cpl. Andrew Eykelenboom was killed in a suicide bomb attack.
Keller was born and raised in Regina, where he attended St. Bernadette School and Riffel High School.
He joined the military reserve in 1997 and transferred to the regular army in 2000.
He met his wife in 1998 while on a military course in Kingston, Ont.
An animal lover, Keller supported the Edmonton Humane Society and had a big dog named Finn MacCool.
Keller’s family wanted a private ceremony and declined to speak with the media, but members of the public came forward in a spontaneous gesture to pay their respects.
Just outside the cemetery, four mothers, each with military-aged sons, held up two Canadian flags as the funeral precession drove away. Some of the drivers beeped their horns as the foursome waved their banners.
“As a mother of three sons — and the ladies I’m with have sons — we just thought it was important to show our troops, and the family especially, that we are thinking about them,” said Anne Hender.
Twenty-six Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since deploying to the war-ravaged country in 2002.