From Flanders County in World War 1 to the fields of raw opium in Southern Afghanistan, I find the red poppy to be especially meaningful to us this Remembrance Day. It has been a very memorable one this year for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I'm here, on an operational mission in Afghanistan where too many of my brothers and sisters in arms have died or been injured. This final Canadian Remembrance Day in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Camp Eggers, has been an inspirational and heavily moving day.
|This is the patch we wore on our left shoulder leading up to 11 Nov.|
Right from 6:30 am, I had been a part of a small group tasked to set up parts of the Remembrance Day ceremony on our camp. We started with moving jugs of coffee and food to a reception area, then to moving chairs in place for the guests. But, these were no ordinary guests. After placing the chairs in tight order, row on row, our small team went about placing name tags on each of the chairs that had been carefully planned by the commanding general's assistant. There were dozens upon dozens of ambassadors, coalition generals, Afghan generals, diplomats, and other senior leaders in attendance. After this was done, we were going to be the ones to bring each VIP's wreath that they were placing on the cenotaph to them to make sure things ran smoothly. They came in all sizes including beautiful and enormous wreaths as tall as I am made of real flowers held together by a steel frame. They were impressive, and my friend Pat and I had to make sure not to drop them in front of hundreds of guests and media... No pressure.
This video came on as I stood near the front but to the side. Screens were set up all around so people could watch the video and listen to the song Highway of Heroes by The Trews. An emotionally intense moment, I squinted against the bright sun to see the faint TV screen and could hardly make out the dark images. Most of all, I listened to these lyrics as chills moved up my back slowly causing my eyes to well up. As tears built up thinking of these devastated families and just how easy it is to lose your life here, the emotions were comforting and all of a sudden I no longer cared much about the wreaths, the cameras, or the VIPs. This was a real honest moment within myself and something I shared with those around me who were breathing more deeply and getting the same goosebumps I was.
As I tried to tilt my head back a little to keep the tears in my eyes, hoping they might dry up, I realized it just didn't matter. Two warm droplets moved down my cheeks and I no longer cared about that either. I had no need to act tough while commemorating so many of our dead who can no longer cry for themselves. So, I'll do it for them.
|A few of the wreaths are shown here including the large one from the ambassador for France.|
And, so will others, as I came to realize. More than a couple Afghan generals who sat in the front rows showed their true feelings. One held a handkerchief to his face as he cried, watching the slideshow of photos of Canadians, no doubt thinking of countless of his own people who have also been killed. Sniffling could be heard all around. What started off as a high stress day making sure to plan the little details became as simple as making this personal and silent connection. The rest of the ceremony went off perfectly as one by one, I passed wreaths to these VIPs and shared in their moments of reflection.
|I salute the cenotaph after the ambassador for Belgium laid flowers and stands beside me.|
I will never forget this ceremony and will always look back at this one as I attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada after today. I promise to remember those who have given their lives, limbs, sweat, blood, and tears to this dirty job of making peace and I hope others can share in this feeling as well. Today is another beautiful day to be Canadian, and for having a stable and prosperous country to call home, I thank God and I thank all of my fellow soldiers, past and present.
Lest we forget.