16,000 honour 4 Canadian soldiers
WESTERN CANADA BUREAU
JEFF MCINTOSH/CP PHOTO
IN MEMORIAM: Four helmets rest on rifles at yesterday's memorial in
Edmonton to the four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
· Special section: Fallen Soldiers
· Prime Minister Chretien's remarks
· Gov. Gen. Clarkson's remarks
· Widow lost in grief (Apr. 24)
· Voices: Readers react
· DND: Express your condolences
· Flash: Tragedy in Kandahar
· Photo Gallery: Canadians in Kandahar
· What Canada is doing
BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR
FALLEN COMRADES: An honour guard pays its respect to four Canadian
soldiers killed in Afghanistan by a U.S. bomb. The bodies arrived on
Canadian soil at CFB Trenton.
EDMONTON — From across the country and around the world they came to
honour Canada's war dead yesterday in a moving ceremony that mixed
tears, tradition and pride.
But, most of all, about 16,000 people packed a hockey arena here to
say a formal thank-you and farewell to four soldiers killed earlier
this month in a "friendly fire" accident during the U.S.-led war on
terrorism in Afghanistan.
"They died serving their country and serving the cause of peace," Lt.-
Cmdr. Catherine MacKinnon, a chaplain, told the crowd. "They risked
their lives and lost their lives for each of us here."
The four fallen soldiers — Sgt. Marc Léger, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pte.
Richard Green and Pte. Nathan Smith — were killed early in the
morning of April 18 when, during a live-ammunition training exercise,
they were hit by a laser-guided bomb dropped by a U.S. F-16 pilot.
Eight other Canadian soldiers were wounded.
Six of those wounded soldiers, including one on a stretcher and
another on crutches, received a thunderous round of applause when
they arrived with their families. The other two wounded soldiers are
still in Afghanistan.
Also on hand from Afghanistan were the seven soldiers who fought
alongside the dead and wounded soldiers and brought them home. They
were joined by dozens of families and friends of the fallen soldiers.
All were members of the Edmonton-based 3rd Battalion Princess
Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. At the memorial ceremony at
Skyreach Centre, a place where hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky won
Stanley Cups and huge cheers, the mood was sombre and respectful.
It was intended to conclude 10 days of grieving across the country
that featured the funerals of those killed, the return to Canada of
the wounded and questions to those responsible.
Canada and the United States have launched separate investigations
into the incident.
A full 30 minutes before the ceremony began, some members of the
audience could be seen wiping away tears as a video montage of the
history of the Patricias, formed in 1914 to fight in World War I, was
played on the giant video screen on the scoreboard above centre ice
and another on the stage. A pipe band and a military band played
The most poignant part of the 2 1/2-hour ceremony came when four
members of the Patricias, dressed in military combat fatigues climbed
the steps of the stage and placed four helmets on four rifles at its
centre and offered salutes.
"The fine soldiers laid to rest this week join the gallant company of
Canadian men and women who generation after generation have risked
everything so that we could continue to live in freedom," said Prime
Minister Jean Chrétien. "Like those who came before, their courage
and their values have done Canada proud."
Other dignitaries in attendance included Defence Minister Art
Eggleton, who did a Bible reading, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein,
Health Minister Anne McLellan, Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart
and Interim Opposition Leader John Reynolds.
U.S. officials in attendance included Paul Celucci, U.S. ambassador
to Canada, and Gen. Eric Shinseki, U.S. army chief of staff. Most of
Canada's top military brass were also on hand including Gen. Ray
Henault, chief of Canada's defence staff; Lt.-Gen. Lloyd Campbell,
chief of air staff; Lt. Gen. Mike Jeffery, chief of land staff; Vice
Admiral Ron Buck, chief of naval staff, and retired Gen. John de
Chastelain, colonel of the PPCLI regiment.
The military tradition was also honoured with the playing of
the "Last Post, Reverie" and a stirring drum salute to the fallen. A
haunting rendition of "Amazing Grace" was played on the bagpipes.
The four dead were eulogized in the words of colleagues in the field,
which were read by fellow soldiers in attendance. They were
remembered for the courage, commitment to the military and love of
family and country.
Capt. Jean-Marc Doucet, speaking of his friend and former colleague,
Léger, 29, of Lancaster, Ont., summed up the feelings of all who
spoke on behalf of the fallen: "He was hero."
Dyer, 25, of Toronto was remembered as a man with a legendary sense
of humour and seemingly endless physical endurance.
Smith, 27, of Tatamagouche, N.S., was one who never complained or got
angry, but simply "smiled his goofy smile and soldiered on."
Green, 22, of Mill Cove, N.S., was an eternal optimist, a quick
learner, a loving fiancé, and "a fitting representative of an entire
Chrétien promised that their memories would be honoured and that
Canada would do all in its power to find an explanation for the
The Canadian board investigating the deaths has now set up a base in
Afghanistan and has met with officers from the Patricias at the
Kandahar base. The four-member board plans next to interview key
witnesses and inspect the training area near Kandahar where the
soldiers were killed, the defence department said in a release.
Board members will also be in regular contact with Brig.-Gen. Marc
Dumais, the Canadian co-leader of the U.S. investigation board. The
board is expected to submit its interim report by mid-May.
Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson paid one of the most eloquent
tributes at the service.
"They have given their lives for us, for our way of life, for our
peaceable kingdom," she said. "They have given their lives in a far
away land for people they did not know. They have written their names
in our hearts. That is what they have given us."
Among the crowd were also many people with no connection to the
"It's important to come and be here to offer our support," said
Maureen Holoiday, in her 40s, attending along with her son, Matthew,
13, a Grade 8 student. "We're so lucky to be here, in Canada, and to
have freedom. We owe a lot to our soldiers for what we have."
Just before the service, Doucet announced that a Canadian soldier
suffered minor injuries yesterday when the armoured U.S. Humvee
vehicle he was riding in drove over a landmine near Kandahar,
Yesterday's ceremony was also an opportunity for members of the
military to thank Canadians for the sympathy and support it has
received in the wake of the incident.
From the Canadian base in Kandahar, Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran said while
nothing could repair the "massive holes in our hearts and in our
lives," the unwavering support and patriotism of people at home has
made the pain easier.
Those sentiments were echoed in Edmonton by Henault.
"A military's success depends on the strong support of the very
people that it serves to protect," he said. "The very sincere out-
pouring of grief and support that we've seen over the past 10 days
has reminded us in uniform that Canadians truly value the sacrifices
made by our men and women."