During the years that the Canadian Forces were fighting in Kandahar, our troops suffered 157 casualties. On the morning of December 30, 2009, my husband checked his blackberry for incoming messages, as was his habit, and told me it had been a particularly bad day as an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) had killed 4 Canadian soldiers and a civilian journalist. Shortly thereafter, the phone rang.
My husband, being one of the senior officers who was available that day, was asked to notify the next of kin of a local soldier who had lost his life in Afghanistan that day. He would be accompanied by the Chaplain.
Dressed in his uniform, my husband waited for the Chaplain to arrive and give him further instructions. His duties were simple enough – locate the father of the deceased and accompany the Chaplain as he informed the family that their son had paid the ultimate price. My husband, a father of 4, one of which was the approximate age of this soldier, was to be “the face of death”.
The day did not go very well. They arrived at the father’s residence to be told he was not in at the time. Of course the neighbour seeing 2 fully uniformed, senior officers, was at once curious as to the nature of their visit and trying to be helpful. And, as you would expect, this was not the time to leave a message. They tried to see the father of the deceased at his workplace but found him to be absent from there as well.
They waited at the nearby Tim Hortons, where many people stared at them as the news of the IED explosion and its magnitude was announced on the tv. After a brief time, they returned to the father’s home where they could finally convey the news that no parent is ever prepared to hear.
The father requested that they inform his son’s mother as he couldn’t face this chore himself. They complied, finding the estranged wife at her home with her partner. The scene was as you would imagine. The grief, the anger, the screaming, the accusations, all came flooding in.
My husband and the Chaplain returned to our home early in the evening where we sat and drank tea, trying to make sense of what they had just witnessed and experienced. The Chaplain, having done this duty more than once, knew that even the most seasoned soldier faces the death of his comrades with a sense of loss and powerlessness.
In November, we wear poppies on our coats and jackets. We remember the fallen. We think of those brave men and women who gave their lives during conflicts in WW1 and WW2. We equate being a veteran with being old. Those are the ones who survived to grow old. We forget that our veterans are our neighbours, the man who owns the local car lube place, the woman who teaches at the nearby language institute. This November, remember that so many brave women and men who are our neighbours have served their country in the Canadian Forces in a great number of capacities. Let us honour them as we honour the ones who were lost.
On November 11th, there will be Remembrance Day ceremonies held throughout our community.
This story is dedicated to Private Garrett William Chidley who lost his life in Kandahar City, Afghanistan on December 30, 2009. He was one of Langley’s sons. He was 21 years old.
Please visit the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.