Sgt James MacNeil

17 July 1981 - 21 June 2010


Hundreds bid farewell to ‘Jimmy’ at Cape Breton military funeral

Sharon Montgomery-Dupe, Cape Breton Post: Saturday, July 3, 2010

GLACE BAY, N.S. — An overflow crowd bid farewell Friday to Sgt. James ‘Jimmy’ MacNeil, a brave soldier who had captured the hearts of many Cape Bretoners.

All 600 seats at Immaculate Conception Church in Bridgeport, N.S., were filled and another 300 watched on a video feed from outside. And on the streets, hundreds lined the curbside as the cortege made its way — many with Canadian flags, almost all with a tear in their eye.

MacNeil, a member of the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa in Ontario and a 10-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, died June 21 during his fourth and what was to be his final tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The victim of an improvised explosive device, he was the 148th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan.

Royal Canadian Legion member Kurt Herbert said he was proud to be part of the colour party.

“The family is taking it hard. Jimmy was a wonderful person and I know everyone on Cape Breton Island is proud of him,” he said.

Members of local fire departments, the RCMP and Cape Breton Regional Police took part in the honour guard, all in dress uniform.

Rev. Daniel Boudreau gave the homily during the funeral service.

“There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for their friends,” he said.

Boudreau told the Cape Breton Post he spoke on the realities of death, emphasizing that it is not until we lose someone dear that it really sinks home.

“I talked about how we lost a soldier, a hero, a son, a relative, a fiancee and a church member, and how it deeply saddened and touched us,” he said.

“We talked about how Jesus sets the ultimate example where he says there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for the sake of others. I brought that comparison into Jimmy himself, how Jimmy ultimately paid the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his own life for the well being of others.”

A heavy shower hit the area during the service. But seemingly on cue, the sun reappeared as the procession formed and MacNeil’s flag-draped casket was carried to a cemetery behind the church for burial.

Marie O’Keefe said her daughter, Capt. Crystal Boone, a log officer with the Canadian Air Force in Winnipeg, was part of the funeral procession.

“She was one of Jimmy’s cousins and best friends,” said O’Keefe. “She explained to me the bond they have in the military and the heartbreak they feel . . . especially for her buddy Jimmy.”

Ray Morrison of River Ryan, N.S., said he was placing the poppy he was wearing on the casket, a tradition at a military funeral.

“There were thousands of Canadians who would have loved to have been here to support the family,” he said.

Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis attended the funeral, as did Bishop Brian Dunn of the Antigonish diocese.

At the graveside service, MacNeil was honoured with a military rifle volley salute.

After the service soldiers hugged, and family members — all dressed in red shirts and black pants — hung on to one another.

© Copyright (c) Cape Breton Post

Soldier ‘loved everyone’

Family members, comrades among 600 at funeral for Sgt. James MacNeil

By LAURA FRASER Cape Breton Bureau , Halifax Chronicle Herald, 3 July 2010

BRIDGEPORT — Sgt. James Patrick MacNeil’s brothers in arms stood ramrod straight with rifles in hand, waiting for the hearse carrying their fallen comrade to come to a halt.

The Glace Bay soldier’s family members, however, painted a stark contrast with the stiff green uniforms, as they crumpled against one another wearing blood-red shirts and yellow ribbons. Despite the overcast sky, many of those relatives shielded their eyes with sunglasses, slipping tissues beneath the lenses as the flag-draped coffin moved into the church.

MacNeil died June 21 when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on foot patrol outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. He had been part of the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont.

It was his fourth tour of duty, and he had made plans for the future. The day before the explosion, he had proposed to his girlfriend, Laura Boutilier.

But MacNeil was a soldier who put the welfare of his comrades before his own, Rev. Daniel Boudreau told the 600 people inside the Immaculate Conception Church on Friday.

"Through his heroism and his love and dignity for the other soldiers, he literally put his own life before the others," the minister said.

"When Jimmy was in combat, rooting for mines, he would often say to the other soldiers, ‘Stay back. You have a wife, you have children. Stay back.’ "

Immediate family, close friends and the military and civilian police honour guards stayed in the main section of the church. About 400 other mourners crowded into the basement to say farewell to the first Cape Breton soldier to die in the Afghanistan conflict.

Others waited outside. Most were dressed in the red-and-white clothing in which they had celebrated Canada Day. A day later, it had turned into funeral garb.

Little girls in sundresses stood next to older veterans waving paper Canadian flags to support a man some had never met.

But they felt they knew him, because they had once worn the uniform. Others had sons, daughters, husbands and wives stationed in Afghanistan and understood the internal conflict of fear and pride that comes with having a loved one overseas.

Eddie Parris, a singer from Whitney Pier, brought people to tears with a haunting rendition of the hymn Precious Lord. He felt that he had to be part of the ceremony, he said. His son Cecil returned home from Afghanistan three weeks ago. His son Nathan ships out in September.

"So every time that there’s a soldier killed, I almost feel like it’s my own, you know? Hopefully, it’s not going to be my own, but you just never know."

More than 100 cars were wedged in the church parking lot and on the grass, the wind playing with the shock of yellow ribbons swaying on nearly every antenna.

The LeBlanc family stood outside the church for most of the funeral simply to pay their respects to a man they called a hero for this community.

"They do a heroic job that not many would choose to do, and these guys, Sgt. MacNeil, paid the ultimate price," Ken LeBlanc said. "So we’re very proud of him and the turnout today."

MacNeil’s family is a large one, but very close-knit. The support from the military and the community has provided comfort, his cousin Jane Deruelle said after the funeral.

"It meant the world to (the family). They couldn’t get over the support," she said. "(MacNeil) was the life at the party. He looked after everyone. He loved everyone."

The funeral closed as a bugler played Taps in the cemetery. Only then, after the strict military procedures ended, did the soldiers lose their stoicism, openly weeping and hugging one another near their comrade’s gravesite.

© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited

Hero’s homecoming for fallen soldier

Erin Pottie, Cape Breton Post, June 29th, 2010

Nearly 10,000 people line highway to honour Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil

GLACE BAY — Under darkened, cloudy skies, a motorcade welcomed home a fallen Canadian soldier, considered the baby of his family and the life of the party.

There were no signs of summer Tuesday as close to 10,000 people lined the Sydney-Glace Bay highway to pay tribute to Sgt. James (Jimmy) MacNeil of Glace Bay, who was killed in Afghanistan last week.

Crowds of people anxiously waited in the cold and drizzle for a glimpse of the hearse carrying the soldier’s body.

Many mourners wore red, others wore yellow ribbons for military support, and it seemed as though almost everyone carried a Canadian or Cape Breton flag.

Family members of the 28-year-old chose to drape themselves in T-shirts depicting two very different sides of their loved one.

The first picture showed, a military photograph of an unsmiling solider, while the second showed a joking young man wearing a T-shirt with the word “Hero” on it and flexing a bicep.

“This is our Jimmy,” said his first cousin Nadine Navarole, pointing to the second picture. “He’s the pride of our family. He was the life of the party, he was a joker and a gangster.”

“Everyone was his favourite cousin,” added cousin Nicole Burton. “He never excluded anyone.”

Support for MacNeil’s family began early with people parking their vehicles along the stretch of highway from the airport to the funeral home hours before his remains were expected to land in Sydney from Ontario.

“We’re very proud of him, and to know how much the community is proud of him, we’re just glad we got to share that with them,” said Navarole. “We still have a long way to go. We brought him home, but it’s just too hard to wrap your head around it right now. You don’t expect that it’s going to happen to your community member or to one of your family.”

MacNeil’s parents and fiancée were escorted inside McGillivray’s Funeral Home along with his casket.

Outside, a large group of MacNeil’s cousins, aunts and uncles, sang a tearful O Canada as a crowd of military veterans stood by.

MacNeil was killed while serving on his fourth and final tour of duty in Afghanistan after he was hit by an improvised explosive device while stepping off an armoured vehicle.

Heather Needham, a university student from Alton, Ont., said the loss of a soldier hits home because her own brother Will Needham is currently serving his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.

She said during his first tour, three of her brother’s closet friends were killed in the war. Her brother was also injured by friendly fire and has shrapnel permanently in his body.

Needham attended the funeral of her brother’s best friend, Pte. Will Cushley of Port Lambton, Ont., in 2006.

“I remember the whole town, people who couldn’t be at the funeral just lined the streets,” said Needham. “The support that the whole community showed this family, these friends of ours, it was unbelievable.

“Going out to an event like this is a way to show your support, not just to that family but to your own, and your brother, and to the others that are serving to remind them that there are people who care about you and love you and understand that you’re just doing a job.”

John Morrison of Sydney, who served as a member of the Canadian Forces for 25 years, said he came out to show support for the troops still overseas.

He stood close to the entrance of J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport where several police and fire vehicles were parked.

“I do support our soldiers over in Afghanistan, although the mission I don’t agree with, but the soldiers I do support,” said Morrison.

Wendy Curnew of Glace Bay said her family came out to support a family whose son’s made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Glace Bay didn’t lose a person, Cape Breton lost a hero,” she said. “Everybody’s behind their son. He didn’t die in vain, he died so that those children over there could live like they were raised — free and able to enjoy themselves.”

Sheldon MacNeil, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 3, said he was proud of the community’s show of support.

“It shows that they love the man greatly. Cape Bretoners are kind and good-hearted and this meant a lot to them. This hit home and hit home hard.”

Hero coming home today

Sharon Montgomery-Dupe, Cape Breton Post 28 June 2010

Yellow ribbons line highway as Cape Breton prepares to honour fallen soldier Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil

GLACE BAY —An emotional message was clear in the community Monday — a hero is coming home.

On Monday, yellow ribbons graced every utility pole from J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport to McGillivray’s Funeral Home in Glace Bay, in honour of the body of Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil returning home today.

Nadine Navarole, a family spokesperson, said the past week has been a roller-coaster of emotions.

“The grieving process hasn’t finished yet. Right now we are just glad Jimmy is coming home,” she said.

“We just want to thank the public for being patient, we hope Jimmy gets the homecoming he deserves,” she said.

“Our biggest prayer is we never have to do this again for another soldier.”

Navarole said the family is hoping people will line the highway from the road exiting the airport through to the funeral home.

The body of the MacNeil is expected to arrive at the airport tonight at 6:15 p.m.

“It is a private gathering at the airport, we are asking anyone wishing to pay tribute to Jimmy to line the highway, but to leave the airport road clear.”

Sgt. MacNeil, 28, was killed June 21 by an improvised explosive device while on his fourth and final tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Navarole said support was unbelievable at CFB Trenton along the Highway of Heroes on Friday.

“We saw a group of policemen from Glace Bay lined up holding a Cape Breton flag. I can’t explain how comforting that was, especially to his mom.”

On Monday, Canadian flags surfaced on decks, front lawns and vehicles throughout the area, along with touching messages, honouring MacNeil.

Sheldon MacNeil, president of the John Bernard Croak Branch 3 of the Royal Canadian Legion, confirmed the legion will provide the honour guard and colour guard at the airport.

“We are devastated like everyone else. It was very bad when it was Ontario and out West, but when it hit home, it was devastating,” he said.

“You never thought it would happen to anyone from Glace Bay, now we know it can.”

Ed MacKenzie, assistant deputy fire chief of the Dominion Volunteer Fire Department, said fire departments will be involved.

“It is not often we can honour a hero. It will be our honour to take part."

MacNeil’s funeral is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church in Bridgeport.

Slain soldier’s body to arrive home Tuesday

Erin Pottie, Capt Breton Post, 27 June 2010

Public asked to line highway for Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil

GLACE BAY — A Canadian soldier who proudly called Cape Breton home will be welcomed back to his final resting spot this week.

The remains of Sgt. James “Jimmy” MacNeil will arrive at the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, to be greeted by what his family hopes will be a long procession of people lined along the highway from the airport on Grand Lake Road to McGillivray’s Funeral Home in Glace Bay.

MacNeil, a Glace Bay native, was killed by an improvised explosive device on June 20, while on a foot patrol near the village of Nakhonay, during his fourth and final tour of Afghanistan.

MacNeil’s aunt, Wanda McNeil of Glace Bay, said when she returned home Saturday from her nephew’s repatriation ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, she realized how quickly the idea of a Cape Breton Highway of Heroes had spread.

“We had started that before we left to go and I guess it’s just taken off from there,” said McNeil. “From what people are telling us, everybody’s been flooding the phones.”

About 30 of the 28-year-old soldier’s family and friends travelled to Ontario last week as his remains were repatriated back to Canada.

Family members and friends are now planning to tie yellow ribbons on telephone poles along the highway todayin preparation for Tuesday’s service. They also encourage service people of any stripe to show up in their uniforms.

McNeil said there may be a ceremony at the Sydney airport upon MacNeil’s arrival but wasn’t sure of the details Sunday evening.

At least 60 Canadian soldiers are travelling to Cape Breton by bus for MacNeil’s wake and funeral services, along with several dignitaries.

“It’s like Glace Bay lost a member of their family too because the support has been overwhelming and it really helps the family,” said McNeil. “Jimmy was the type of kid that loved attention.”

MacNeil was an only child and the youngest of all his cousins. He also recently got engaged to Laura Boutilier, a teacher in Glace Bay.

Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil remembered by fellow combat engineers

Petawawa soldier killed by IED in Nakhoney, Kandahar

Tina Peplinskie, Pembroke Daily Observer 24 Jun 2010

CFB/ASU PETAWAWA -Sergeant Jimmy MacNeil is being remembered as an outstanding soldier with tremendous confidence, quick wit and a positive attitude even under the most trying circumstances.

This was the image painted by Lt.-Col. Ted Middleton, commanding officer of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The Petawawa-based soldier, a member of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, was killed Monday when an improved explosive device detonated while he was on foot patrol near the village of Nakhonay, about 15 kilometres south west of Kandahar City.

Sgt. MacNeil was on his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, which he had volunteered for because he believed he had more to give the people of the war-torn country. He was serving in Afghanistan as a member of 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

"In regiment we have to stay focused on the positives," Lt.-Col. Middleton said. "We celebrate Jimmy MacNeil's life, his contributions to the unit, the army and his contribution to Canada and take pride in that. It is a mechanism that helps all of us cope better in this very difficult situation."

He believes coping with the loss of Sgt. MacNeil will strengthen the resolve of the soldiers and the reinforce the regimental bond.

"We work together and in cases like this we all grieve together," he said.

On behalf of all serving and retired members of the regiment, the commanding officer offered his sincerest condolences and deepest sympathies to Sgt. MacNeil's family, adding the entire regiment will share in the loss of the fantastic young man.

"Our focus as a regiment now is on supporting the MacNeil family through this terrible loss and trying time," he said, speaking from a podium in front of the 2 CER headquarters. "Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil was a huge personality and his death touches every member of 2 CER. The regimental family will stand strong and stand together along side the MacNeil family."

Lt.-Col. Middleton spoke to the sergeant's parents on the phone Monday, but hopes to meet with them in person soon. It is typical for the commanding officer and regimental sergeant major to visit the family in person, but it hasn't been possible because of the distance, he explained.

Sgt. MacNeil, a 28-year-old Glace Bay, Nova Scotia native, joined the Canadian Forces as a combat engineer 10 years ago. From the perspective of his superiors, Sgt. MacNeil was a professional soldier who could be counted on to get the job done.

"He loved his job, he truly loved being a sapper and he loved the sappers with whom he served," Lt.-Col. Middleton said. "He was a combat leader, a mentor and a very good friend. Soldiers followed Jimmy because they didn't want to let him down, they didn't want to disappoint him and believe me there is no more powerful form of leadership than that."

On the job and away from work, Sgt. MacNeil was also known for his big personality. The CO called him a rock of a man who would give the shirt off his back, his shoulder to lean on or the occasional crushing bear hug to bring out a good laugh.

Because of that personality, the loss felt will vary for different people.

Some will remember Sgt. MacNeil as a teacher, others the soldier that had the ability to pick people up when they were down and provided the motivation to keep going.

"He gave every member of this regiment his time and ultimately he gave his life," Lt.-Col. Middleton said.

Copyright © 2010 The Daily Observer

Family of fallen soldier plans hero’s welcome

Sharon Montgomery. Cape Breton Post June 23rd, 2010

Cape Bretoners asked to create local 'Highway of Heroes' for Glace Bay's Sgt. James MacNeil

GLACE BAY — The family of a Glace Bay soldier killed in Afghanistan is hoping the public will help honour his final trip home.

Nadine Navarole, a first cousin of the late Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil, said the family plans to provide a Highway of Heroes — like the one in Ontario — welcome home.

“When Jimmy is brought home, we are asking anyone who knew him or anyone who would just like to honour him to line the highway — as a salute — from the highway outside the Sydney airport to McGillivray’s Funeral Home in Glace Bay,” she said.

“We are also asking anyone in uniform, such as firefighters and legion members, to come out and stand proudly in their uniform, like Jimmy always did.”

MacNeil, a member of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa, was killed Monday by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol near the village of Nakhonay.

MacNeil, the son of Velma MacNeil and stepfather Allan Burke of Dartmouth, and James MacNeil and stepmother Hellen MacNeil of Glace Bay, joined the military in 2000 after graduating from Glace Bay High School. He was serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment battle group and relatives say this was his fourth tour overseas.

“He promised us this would be his last tour,” Navarole said.

“He fell in love with a wonderful woman —  Laura Boutilier, a teacher in Glace Bay. They were looking for a home, getting ready to settle down.”

MacNeil’s body will be repatriated at CFB Trenton on Thursday at 2 p.m. where the official Highway of Heroes is.

His family, including aunts, uncles and some other members, is going to Trenton for the service.

The family believes MacNeil’s body will be brought home Saturday, but are still waiting for confirmation.

On Tuesday, family members were busy making funeral arrangements. Details have not been finalized, but the service is expected to be held next week at Immaculate Conception Church in Bridgeport.

Navarole said the day also included a lot of reminiscing about the wonderful memories MacNeil left behind.

“He had a way of making each and every individual member of his family feel like they were his favourite.”

Navarole said the family is receiving an overwhelming show of support from the public.

“It is overwhelming and greatly appreciated.”

Kathy MacKinnon, also a first cousin of MacNeil’s, said the news has hit the extremely close-knit family hard.

“He was the baby of all the cousins. They all called him their baby boy, it is a devastating blow.”

MacKinnon said MacNeil was so family-oriented, all his vacations were spent at home with his family.

“When he was home, every family member got to see him,” she said.

“He meant everything to his family and his family meant everything to him.”

Dan Wilson grew up with MacNeil, attended school and played road hockey with him. He said MacNeil was friendly and always up for anything.

“I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t best friends with him.”

Rev. Arlen John Bonnar of the parish of St. James United Church in Montreal said MacNeil will be commemorated during a service at the church Sunday.

“I am a Cape Bretoner — I was born in Sydney — so I know when it touches our own, what it is like.”

Bonnar said for the past 25 years the church has had a strong ministry of praying for peace.

Whenever a Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan, the soldier is commemorated during a service at the church, he said.

“We have a memorial plaque in the front of the church with the name of every Canadian soldier on it who has died during the conflict.”

“This Sunday we will stop during our service and will add Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil’s name to the memorial plaque. We will stop in a time of silence for him, continue to pray for his family, the community of Glace Bay and Cape Breton and continue to pray for peace in Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan.”

Fallen Canadian heading back home

By Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service June 23, 2010

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The 148th Canadian to die in Afghanistan was given a sombre sendoff from this huge logistics base by about 1,500 allied troops early Wednesday morning.

The casket of Sgt. "Jimmy" MacNeil— who recently became engaged to a teacher back home in Cape Breton — was slow-marched between two wide columns of troops by fellow combat engineers and into the belly of a huge CC-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

"To a man we are all affected by this," was the unusually frank assessment of the loss of MacNeil by Maj. Jim Smith, who commands sappers from 2 Combat Engineer Regiment who do some of the most dangerous work for Task Force Kandahar.

"Many of us continue to struggle with his death. . . . It will be hard for us to recover from this."

The death of MacNeil, who was killed when his foot patrol hit a homemade landmine Monday morning in Panjwaii District, about 20 kilometres west of Kandahar City, has left many other soldiers distraught because, as Smith and others said Tuesday, the 28-year-old engineer was the life of every social gathering as well as a crackerjack soldier who had volunteered for his fourth tour in Afghanistan.

MacNeil was the only son of Velma MacNeil and stepfather Allan Burke of Dartmouth, N.S., and of James MacNeil and stepmother Helen MacNeil of Glace Bay, N.S.

"Our family was shocked and saddened by the news of Jimmy's death," the MacNeil family said in a statement the Department of Defence released on their behalf.

The engineer called his fiancee, Laura Boutilier, "wifey," loved her and his military career, was a devoted fan of the Montreal Canadiens and "believed that . . . his deployments to Afghanistan would contribute to a better life for the Afghan people," his family said.

"I always loved his sense of humour," Smith, who had known MacNeil since a year after the Glace Bay native joined the army in 2000. "He loved life, he loved his friends, he loved his fiancee, Laura."

Among those attending his airport memorial were 18 men and women whose kin had died fighting for Canada in southern Afghanistan in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The family members arrived on Tuesday as part of a program run by the Canadian military to show them where their loved ones had served and died.

MacNeil was killed in a hotly contested area of Panjwaii near the village of Nakhoney. It is a place which the Taliban fled ahead of a Canadian offensive several months ago. But the insurgents have slowly returned to the area in recent weeks to plant huge numbers of improvised explosive devices.

The bulk of Canada's combat forces are now concentrated in the district, which is near the birthplace of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and widely considered to be one of the most dangerous places in all of Afghanistan.

Canadian and American forces deployed on the western and northern approaches of the provincial capital have been attempting to slowly push concentrations of Taliban away from populated areas and provide security for Kandahar City, which is considered to be the decisive battleground by western and Afghan forces and the Islamic insurgents who oppose them.

With MacNeil's death, 10 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year. This is the lowest number of Canadians to have died by this time of year since Ottawa redeployed forces from Kabul to Kandahar in 2006. But NATO commanders have predicted a surge in violence this summer as thousands of U.S. forces flood into Kandahar to join Canadian and American forces already there.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

N.S. community mourns soldier

CBC News June 21, 2010

The community of Glace Bay, N.S., is mourning the loss of Sgt. James MacNeil, 28, a Canadian soldier killed Monday in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.

The community of Glace Bay, N.S., is mourning the loss of Sgt. James MacNeil, 28, who was killed Monday in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.

Family members supported each other outside MacNeil's father's house Monday afternoon.

"I begged him not to go, but he wouldn't listen," said MacNeil's cousin, Jeannie Lind.

Lind said MacNeil loved his work in the military, though he was making plans for the next phase of his life.

"He was just engaged yesterday, and he was wanting to come back home and work in Sydney and buy a home here," she said.

MacNeil, who joined the military after graduating from Glace Bay High School 10 years ago, was on his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"My heart goes out to his family, and it certainly goes out to his comrades that he served with over there," said local Canadian Legion member Sheldon MacNeil, who is related to the soldier.

"It's really bad when you hear it on the news and it's British Columbia and Ontario," he said. "But when it hits home, it just tears the heart out of you."

Legion halls in Cape Breton will fly their flag at half-staff in honour of MacNeil.

A member of the Sydney branch of the legion said MacNeil's death will have an impact on all parents whose sons and daughters are serving in Afghanistan.

"They keep sending soldiers over there and keep moving the guys up from the military and everything to get them to go over there," said Joe MacNeil, no relation to the victim. "I'm sure a lot of them don't want to be there, but once they get over there they're proud to be Canadian and fighting for our country."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter both issued statements of condolence to the MacNeil family.

Deputy Premier Frank Corbett, speaking on behalf of Nova Scotia's NDP government, said Canadians must continue to support the troops in Afghanistan.

"It's hard to think much beyond today, in some respects," he said. "We all feel a heavy grief that the family must feel today. But more importantly what this means for all Canadians, it's very, very important that we stay committed to members of our armed forces."

It is expected his remains will begin their journey home on Tuesday.

Canadian soldier who just got engaged killed in Afghanistan

Sgt. James MacNeil of Glace Bay, N.S., was killed Monday morning while on a foot patrol in Nakhoney, about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar. (CNS)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - It was his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan and Sgt. James MacNeil had already decided it would be the last.

And it tragically was.

Less than 24 hours after the young Glace Bay, N.S., man got engaged to his girlfriend and started making plans for a wedding and a new home, his life was cut short Monday morning.

"Sgt. MacNeil was killed by the detonation of an improvised explosive device while on a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army," said Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, as he stood in front of the cenotaph at Kandahar Air Field.

MacNeil's cousin, Jeannie Lind, said he got engaged to Laura Boutilier, a Glace Bay woman he had been dating for about six months, either over the phone or on Facebook.

"They were going to get married. She was looking at houses yesterday," Lind said.

She said the 28-year-old had already volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a fourth tour when he met Boutilier and fell in love.

Lind said he changed his mind about going overseas again, but it was too late.

"He loved being in the military and I begged him not to go back but he said it was his job to go but it would be his last time," Lind told The Canadian Press in an interview from her Glace Bay home.

It's the second straight Canadian death in Nakhonay, about 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.

Nakhonay is in the Panjwaii district which is known as the birthplace of the Taliban. It has been a bloody battleground for Canadian troops since they arrived in Kandahar province in strength four years ago.

Dozens of Canadians have been killed or wounded in the restive district. While villages and towns have been repeatedly cleared, the Taliban have quietly reasserted themselves in parts of the region.

IEDs have been the single biggest cause of death among Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Eight out of the 10 Canadian deaths this year were the result of an IED blast. In all, 89 of the 148 Canadian fatalities in the eight-year-old Afghan mission came about from IEDs _ which include roadside bombs and some other type of explosives, according to the Department of Defence.

Two civilians _ diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang _ have also been killed in Canada's mission to Afghanistan.

Lind said MacNeil's parents were divorced and he was raised by his father. He was an only child.

She said MacNeil's father would adorn his Glace Bay home in ribbons every time his son went to Afghanistan and they would stay up until he returned home.

"And they're still up," she said.

"The family is in shock. A lot of crying. A lot of people are at the home. They just can't believe it."

She said MacNeil joined the military in 2000 and went to Afghanistan for the first time a year later.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to MacNeil and sent condolences to the soldier's family, friends and comrades. "May you be consoled by the knowledge that an entire country stands behind you in your grief," Harper said in a statement.

The prime minister said MacNeil “was a courageous, dedicated soldier who gave his life trying to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves and their country."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said MacNeil was "bringing hope to a population that has seen much hardship and turmoil. His death is a terrible loss for the Canadian Forces and all of Canada."

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean also issued a statement expressing "great sadness" over MacNeil's death. "We shall forever be indebted to him for the tremendous perseverance, courage, heroism and generosity that he exhibited. We shall not forget him," Jean said.

In Kandahar, Vance said: "For each IED that Canadian soldiers find and disarm, Afghan lives are spared and the processes of rebuilding their communities can continue."

"Through constant patrolling and maintaining a presence in that community, Afghans know to trust both Canadian and Afghan soldiers and respect their efforts to bring them security from all sources of harm."

MacNeil was with 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa.

He was the epitome of excellence and professionalism, said Vance, who called him a "proud Cape Bretoner" who couldn't say No to a social gathering. Vance said he was inevitably "the life of the party".

Vance said MacNeil was known for his good sense of humour and, according to his men, was a great person to work for.

"He was blessed with a permanent smile and eyes that could not conceal the mischief that he was no doubt contemplating."

Vance said that after MacNeil's last deployment to Afghanistan, and before his promotion to sergeant, he was recognized as the top master corporal in 2 Mechanized Brigade Group.

Canadian sergeant killed by IED in Afghanistan News Staff

Mon. Jun. 21 2010 8:55 PM ET

An IED blast has claimed the life of another Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.

Sgt. James MacNeil, of Glace Bay, N.S., died Monday morning while on a joint foot patrol with members of the Afghan National Army near the village of Nakhonay, about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.

The 28-year-old was killed after dismounting from his armoured vehicle.

MacNeil was from the 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa. He was serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

"We are all thinking of the family and friends of our Canadian fallen comrade during this sad time," read a statement on the Department of National Defence website. "The commitment and sacrifice of our military and their loved ones are helping to make a difference in the lives of the people of Kandahar Province."

Brig.-Gen Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said MacNeil was on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.

Vance called MacNeil a "proud Cape Bretoner" with a great sense of humour who was always "the life of the party."

"He was blessed with a permanent smile and eyes that could not conceal the mischief that he was no doubt contemplating," Vance said.

According to Vance, after MacNeil's last deployment to Afghanistan and before his promotion to sergeant, the young soldier was recognized as the top master corporal in 2 Mechanized Brigade Group.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed MacNeil as a "courageous, dedicated soldier" and offered his condolences to MacNeil's friends and family.

"May you be consoled by the knowledge that an entire country stands behind you in your grief," Harper said in a statement.

Governor General Michaelle Jean called MacNeil "a dedicated participant in this most complex and perilous mission. We shall forever be indebted to him for the tremendous perseverance, courage, heroism and generosity that he exhibited. We shall not forget him."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said MacNeil "served valiantly alongside his comrades to help build a better and brighter future for Afghans."

The village of Nakhonay in the Panjwaii district has been particularly dangerous for Canadian soldiers. Dozens of Canadians have been injured or killed in the region as Taliban militants battle to retain a presence in the area.

Earlier this month, 35-year-old Sgt. Martin Goudreault died near the same village while on foot patrol. He, too, was killed by an IED blast.

More than half of the Canadians who died in Afghanistan this year have been killed by IEDs.

CTV's South Asia Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer said the IED is an ever-present danger for Canadian Forces members.

"As the military changes it's tactics, so do the insurgents," Mackey Frayer told CTV News Channel by telephone from Kabul, summing up the danger on the ground.

Vance said for every IED Canadian soldiers find and disarm, Afghan lives are spared and the work of rebuilding communities can continue.

"Through constant patrolling and maintaining a presence in that community, Afghans know to trust both Canadian and Afghan soldiers and respect their efforts to bring them security from all sources of harm," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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