Bodies of fallen Canadian soldiers return home
Published Monday, March 23, 2009 9:23PM EDT
Four Canadian soldiers were repatriated Monday, their flag-draped coffins carried down the Highway of Heroes to downtown Toronto in a moving and uniquely Canadian ceremony.
The caskets of Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, 28, Cpl. Tyler Crooks, 24, Trooper Jack Bouthillier, 20, and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, 22, arrived at CFB Trenton around 2 p.m.
Families of the fallen soldiers were joined at the repatriation ceremony by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The widow of Vernelli, Marcie Lane, held their six-month-old daughter, Olivia, while she blew a kiss to her husband's casket. She laid a rose atop his coffin and then saluted her fallen husband.
It was a heartbreaking scene played over and over again Monday, as grieving loved ones placed roses on the caskets, while the sounds of a solitary bagpiper echoed over the tarmac.
Vernelli and Crooks died on Friday while on foot patrol in Zhari district, west of Kandahar city. They were killed in an explosion that occurred around 6:45 a.m., local time. The blast also killed a local interpreter and injured five other soldiers.
Two hours later, Bouthillier and Hayes were killed after their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Shah Wali Kot, northeast of Kandahar city.
The deaths occurred as Canadian soldiers were working alongside U.S. troops in a massive operation to disrupt Taliban command centres and supply lines.
"When we spoke to people over the weekend about them, everyone said how brave they were, how committed they were to the mission," CTV's Rosemary Thompson reported on Monday afternoon from CFB Trenton. "And so of course it's a very, very sad day."
The bodies of the fallen soldiers were escorted by police in a motorcade along the Highway of Heroes, the portion of Highway 401 that runs between Trenton and Toronto.
Hundreds of Canadians lined the overpasses of the highway to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers, a scene that has sadly become a frequent tradition.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff paid tribute to the fallen Canadians Monday afternoon in the House of Commons.
Ignatieff said that the soldiers died trying to "create the conditions in which Afghanistan can hold free elections, free of terror and violence. All members of this House and all Canadians mourn their loss and honour their valour."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed Ignatieff's remarks and commended the soldiers for their willingness to protect the interests of Afghan civilians, as well as Canadians.
"I'm always amazed by the fact that we have young men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line in this way for their country and for their fellow human beings, and we will always be in awe and eternal remembrance for their sacrifice."
On Saturday, more than 3,000 NATO soldiers paid tribute to their fallen comrades in a late-night ramp ceremony at Kandahar airfield.