Family takes solace in 'Highway of Heroes'
Published Saturday, December 8, 2007 5:54PM EST
ST. HYACINTHE, Que - Public support shown along the Highway of Heroes in eastern Ontario instilled pride in a family grappling with a wrenching loss, the brother of slain Canadian soldier Cpl. Nicolas Beauchamp said Saturday.
Beauchamp and Pte. Michel Levesque, both of CFB Valcartier, were killed in Afghanistan last month when their light armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb east of Kandahar City.
Beauchamp, 28, was with the 5th Field Ambulance and Levesque, 25, was a member of the Royal 22nd Regiment -- also known as the Van Doos.
David Beauchamp said the families of both soldiers were touched by the support of onlookers who filled overpasses along Highway 401 after the repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton.
He said it was "magical'' watching hundreds of people wave Canadian and Quebec flags on every overpass, as the hearses carrying the soldiers' bodies passed below.
"All the people that were there, all of you that actually came to see them and honour them when they returned, I can just tell you the experience we all had as families, was pride all the way,'' he said Saturday before his brother's funeral.
"That was really impressive. It was a big salute to the troops. For every soldier that listened... take this as a source to remember that people do support the troops. It's important for the troops and the families to feel that support.''
The stretch of highway between CFB Trenton and Toronto was renamed the Highway of Heroes to honour Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. It is the route taken by hearses that transport repatriated bodies to Toronto, where autopsies are performed.
Private funeral services were also held Saturday for Levesque in his Laurentian hometown of Riviere-Rouge, Que., about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
Levesque had returned to Afghanistan from leave about a week before the bomb blast. He recently had been engaged to his 18-year-old girlfriend, who is pregnant.
Meanwhile, in St-Hyacinthe, Que., about 800 mourners marched with Beauchamp's family behind a military procession, which led them a short distance through town.
Beauchamp's son Alexandre, 7, and daughter Josian, 6, each clutched fluffy, brown teddy bears as they flanked his parents as they approached the doors of the grey-brick church. The children appeared oblivious to the events unfolding around them.
Periodically through the morning, the sounds of church bells, bagpipes and a three-shot rifle salute echoed through the serene community.
Following the service, tears welled in the eyes of loved ones as they hugged and kissed members of Beauchamp's family.
The funeral was closed to the media, but members of Beauchamp's family met with reporters before the ceremony.
"Nicolas was somebody who always saw the positive side in everyone,'' said Cpl. Dolores Crampton, a medical technician who served in the same unit in Afghanistan.
Crampton, who accompanied Beauchamp's body home, said they discussed the risks of their mission.
"We were prepared for this,'' she said.
"We spoke about it a lot, but we were there to help (the Afghan people). We didn't think about the negative side. We remained very positive during the mission.''
Beauchamp grew up in the region of St-Hyacinthe, about 50 kilometres east of Montreal. His brother said he had a passion for the outdoors and an infectious joy for life.
"He was a strong guy for us in the family,'' he said. "He was there to help people.''
David Beauchamp said his brother also enjoyed poker, which prompted a group of his buddies to get together recently for a game in his honour.
Meanwhile, Beauchamp's father Robert said his son went to Afghanistan because he wanted to make a difference.
"He was a guy who truly had his principles in his heart,'' said Robert Beauchamp. "For us, he will always be our hero.
"I adored the child that he was, and I loved the man he became.''
An Afghan interpreter also died in the Nov. 17 blast. Three other soldiers based out of CFB Valcartier were injured.
A total of 73 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in Afghanistan since 2002.