Credits: EMILY MOUNTNEY/TRENTONIAN/QMI AGENCY
TRENTON, Ont. -- Families of Canadian soldiers gathered here for a moving ceremony, as the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial was unveiled Saturday.
A bell tolled as Air Cadets read the names of the 158 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Their names are engraved on the memorial, located just a few metres from the Highway of Heroes.
For many family members, it was the first time they returned to Trenton since attending their loved ones’ repatriation ceremonies, which take place here. There were about 250 family members in attendance.
Dozens of soldiers who served in Afghanistan were also at the ceremony to remember their fallen comrades. They joined the ranks of about 2,500 people at the event.
Georgetown resident Mary Jane Parker and her children Alexandra and Charlie laid a wreath on behalf of the families.
Their father, Col. Geoffrey Stephen Parker, died May 18, 2010, in a suicide bombing in Kabul.
His children proudly saluted their father after laying the wreath at the base of the granite monument -- a split maple leaf, showing silhouetted family members on one side and a figure of a soldier on the other separated from loved ones.
Robin McCormack and Eli Miok flew in from Sherwood Park, Alta., for the ceremony. Both of their sons were killed on Dec. 30, 2009.
Cpl. Zachery McCormack, of the 4th Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Sgt. George Miok, 41 Combat Engineer Regiment died when an improvised explosive device detonated in Kandahar City.
Saturday’s event marked the first time Robin McCormack and Eli Miok returned to Trenton since their sons were repatriated in 2010.
They have become close friends, after meeting at a restaurant in the city just hours before the repatriation.
McCormack held back tears as he tried to express thanks to everyday Canadians for their support and recognition.
“When soldiers came home, like our sons, they become all of Canada’s sons and daughters, not just our sons and daughters,” he said.
Miok never expected to be back in Trenton -- and never really wanted to -- until word started to spread Canadians were building a memorial.
“How could we miss this? Many, many people have worked so hard on this. The support and recognition given to us has been incredible,” Miok said.
After the ceremony, family members gathered at the memorial. Some taped pictures and poppies of loved ones onto their names, others placed bouquets of flowers at the foot of the memorial.
St. Catharines resident Michelle Brown knelt down and kissed her husband’s name. Warrant Officer Dennis Brown, of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, died March 3, 2009 in when an IED exploded in the Arghandab District.
“At first I was really apprehensive about coming here,” said Brown. “But this has been a wonderful tribute to my husband and all the family members here today.
Hockey celebrity Don Cherry was an invited guest. He talked to family members prior to the start of the ceremony.
“If this doesn’t choke you up nothing will,” Cherry said. “I wish every Canadian could be here today to witness this.”
Afghan ambassador to Canada, Bara Karima, spoke at the event, detailing the achievements of Canadian soldiers and what they mean to his country.
“We have nine million children in school, we have access to health-care services, roads, and we don’t live in fear because of your sacrifices,” Karimi said. “We’re much better off than we were before because of you.”
Family members stood as they applauded Karimi’s words of thanks.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the memorial is “magnificent.”
“This memorial is a testimonial of Canadian people to family members whose lives have changed forever,” Blaney said. “We have not forgotten.”
Royal Military College cadets unveiled the memorial in stages. It was followed by the flypast of a single CC-130 Hercules from nearby CFB Trenton.