Planted trees and scattered memorials for Afghan War vets
By Muriel Draaisma, CBC News, November 9, 2010
On Nov. 1, 2010, the family of a fallen Canadian soldier gathered near a large black granite maple leaf on the eastern edge of a sprawling army base northwest of Ottawa.
It was 10 a.m. The sky was clear and the names of all 152 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan were visible, etched into the granite monument for all to see.
"May the sacrifice of these warriors never be forgotten," the Afghanistan Memorial Monument at CFB Petawawa reads in English and French.
The family of Sean David Greenfield attended a ceremony at the circular courtyard that contains the monument, an imposing structure that weighs five metric tonnes. They were there to plant a tree in his name.
Greenfield, 25, a former sapper, was killed Jan. 31, 2009 by an improvised explosive device west of Kandahar City.
He was the 108th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan but his name was chosen for the first tree because his family was the first to express interest in having one planted.
The tree was planted in what is called Memorial Forest, a grassy area that extends from the monument along a cement walkway.
Both the monument and forest are located in an area called Memorial Park, a quiet corner of a busy base on the banks of the Ottawa River, about two hours by car from the nation's capital.
Although Canadian military operations in Afghanistan are not yet over, memorials to honour those soldiers killed during the mission have been created in a handful of places across the country.
Most are made of stone. But there are also trees, lakes and an Inukshuk.
"These people have volunteered for their country and lost their lives," says Lt.-Col. Keith Rudderham, base commander of CFB Petawawa. "We can never repay them and we owe them a huge debt.
"The only thing we can do, which is what those of us in uniform have promised to do, is to remember them."
Canadian soldiers have been involved in Afghanistan since 2002 and Rudderham says he believes memorials are being created in different locales to honour the sacrifice and because communities do not want to make the families wait.
At this point, there are at least two military memorials overseas for Canadians killed in Afghanistan but outside of the forces they may not be widely known.
In the Canadian section of Kandahar Airfield, a memorial made of white and black granite marks the fallen.
On it, a photograph of the soldier is etched, with his or her name, rank, unit and age.
The memorial is kept clean of dust everyday and, in October 2009, images of U.S. soldiers who fought and died here under Canadian command were added.
Inside the airfield's boardwalk area there is another memorial, an Inukshuk composed of rock slabs gathered from the Kandahar area.
It is dedicated to the memory of Canadian and coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan and was built by members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which is based at CFB Edmonton.
A third memorial, with descriptions of the fallen, was located at Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates. But that base has now been closed, as of Nov. 3, 2010.
In Canada, meanwhile, memorials for Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan have largely been community efforts.
A Royal Canadian Legion branch in Fredericton unveiled a stone memorial on Oct. 18, 2009 as did an Indo-Canadian community group in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, on Oct. 2, 2010. It is located at the Canadian Museum of Hindu Civilization.
In Quebec City, a private radio station, CHOI FM, and its listeners contributed to a stone memorial that was unveiled on Oct. 29, 2010.
In Manitoba, the provincial government named four lakes southeast of Thompson after four soldiers from the province who were killed in Afghanistan: Pte. Lane Watkins, 20; Cpl. James Arnal, 25; Cpl. Michael Seggie, 21; and Greenfield, who was born in Pinawa.
Meanwhile, the municipality of Quinte West, Ont., which includes CFB Trenton, is working on plans for a large memorial south of the base.
The memorial will acknowledge the Highway of Heroes, a stretch of Highway 401 from Trenton to Toronto, and note that bodies of Canadian soldiers are repatriated at CFB Trenton.
The Quinte West design, chosen through a contest, features a silhouette of a soldier in black granite, standing in front of two maple leaves, one in front of the other, enclosed by a circular courtyard and a flower bed of poppies.
One maple leaf is black; the other is red. The names of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan will be engraved onto the black one.
Quinte West Mayor John Williams says a fundraising committee is being organized and all funds raised for the memorial will come from individual public donations.
"Every Canadian soldier who loses his or her life in Afghanistan is repatriated through Trenton," he points out. "It's appropriate to have a memorial here.
"This is the start of the Highway of Heroes. Hundreds of people gather here, along the highway and on bridges, when the body of soldier comes back to Canada."
The hope is that work on the memorial will begin next spring and it will be ready by the summer of 2011, when Canadian combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
At CFB Petawawa, the planting of the Memorial Forest is being organized now that the first tree is in place.
Memorial Park is open to the public but Rudderham, the base commander, expects the forest to become more of a private area where families and friends can search for the tree planted for their loved ones.
The Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario command, has donated $40,000 to cover the costs of the project and the base is sending letters to all of the families asking them to choose the type of tree and the exact location where they would like to see it planted.
The base hopes most of the planting will be done over the next three years.
Rudderham says CFB Petawawa has taken the lead in creating these memorials for soldiers killed in Afghanistan because it was one of the main staging points. Home to the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, CFB Petawawa has lost 40 soldiers in Afghanistan from its units.
Carl Kletke, a heritage outreach officer at the Department of National Defence in Ottawa, says DND is not certain exactly how many memorials have been dedicated specifically to Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
"A lot of [existing] memorials have added the names of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan," he says.
For example, the war memorial in Chester, N.S., now includes the name of Pte. Richard Anthony Green, killed in a friendly fire incident on April 18, 2002. Green, 21, was one of four Canadians who died when a U.S. fighter jet attacked them by mistake during a night training exercise near Kandahar.
According to the National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials, there are 6,212 registered memorials in Canada, with new ones appearing every year. They are classified by location and type.
Kletke says memorials in Canada range from cenotaphs and fountains in parks to stained glass windows and plaques in churches.
Many, like the stone wall in Kensington, P.E.I., honour the war dead from several conflicts, from the First World War to Afghanistan. The one in Kensington also pays tribute to everyone from the town who served in the Canadian Forces.
Memorials, Kletke says, provide a physical place for families of fallen soldiers to grieve and a focal point for communities on Remembrance Day.
For those with loved ones buried in Commonwealth graves overseas, memorials offer them a place in their own communities to pay their respects.
As Melanie Mangaard, one of Greenfield's sisters, told the Petawawa Post: "We have been here in Petawawa for a long time. To have something planted, rooted permanently into the ground in the place we call home, is nice."