London - Burial of a Fallen Hero
Our brothers and sisters of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In case you ever had any doubts about the place you hold in our hearts and minds. Let me express to you an experience I had with the burial of a Canadian soldier who died in Afghanistan.
On monday, October 16th, a week after Thanksgiving I had the responsibility of overseeing the burial of Trooper Mark Wilson at St. Peter's Cemetery in London. Many people in Airsoft know me as "Stonewall", sometimes "Cully". In real life, I am head of Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of London and Manager of St. Peter's Cemetery. Permit me to express to you all what it meant to be involved in an event none of us ever want to experience, the death and burial of a soldier who has fallen in the line of duty. Forgive me if my account is dramatic. But it was, and forever will be, one of the saddest days of my life.
I took photos before and after for our archives. Four I share with you. I took none during the service as it would have been inappropriate and I was much directly involved.
A week before, October 10th, we received word Trooper Wilson, Royal Canadian Dragoons, killed by a roadside bomb, would come home to London. From that moment forward we began to put in place all the arrangements to take care of this fine young man and family. I wanted it to be a proper tribute worthy of a hero, a father, a son, a brother, a husband.
Absolutely nothing was left out. As was fitting, the family received the best possible care. Personally, this was very important to me. My Grandmother's family gave up their only son in WWI for a piece of dirt in France called Hill 70. In 1952, when my Grandfather a US Marine in WWI died, my grandmother did not have the funds. He was buried in a crummy cloth casket in an unmarked spot. I swore on his grave, that only best would do for any soldier and his family that ever came under my care.
Most of all, because of the profound respect and esteem for those who serve. You are our best. Only the best will do.
Come monday morning after a week of rain, a beautiful fall day dawned. By request of family the place of burial had been kept quiet. The night before neighbours and friends had stopped by in the dark of night and placed yellow ribbons everywhere in tribute of a young man they had known since childhood.
A new flag was lowered. The area made spotless. A stainless steel vault, a soldiers vault, waited to receive the casket. At 11am the same time the funeral started in the church, the sun came out and a ray of light shone on the vault and made it glow a brilliant light. The Irish in me whispered; "The angels themselves have come to usher this young man to a greater place."
The church was packed with over 1,000 family and friends. Outside, complete strangers sobbed and wept. They did not know him, but they had to be there. After, along the procession route, school children stood by the road with Canadian flags. Yellow badges of honour marked the 5 km route from church to cemetery. The entire City of London, young to old mourned this loss of a son. Trooper Wilson was the first soldier in the history of the city killed overseas to ever come home. All paid tribute. All felt the pain.
The hearse was met at the cemetery by an honour guard from CFB Petawawa. The piper began to play"Going Home". Tears began to flow. The final moments had come. My heart broke. The part of me that was a father, and a Canadian, wept for this young man. His family. His friends and his mates. These were nice people. To witness suffering of this magnitude was physically painful. Bad things should not happen to nice people. But it did. And here we were.
At "High Carry", his comrades bore him to a grave beside the flag pole. In the shadow of the flag. Gentley they placed the casket on the straps that would lower him to his final rest.
The service, retrieval of the flag. Presentation of the flag to the family. The Bugler's lament. Precise and clean. Perfect. The men and women in uniform did themselves proud on this day. On this day. This day of days.
When the final moment came the head of the burial party gave me a nod. I knelt down at the head of the casket and turned the switch to begin the descent of the body of a warrior son, for all eternity, into the vault, and embrace of mother earth.
Service at a conclusion the crowd began to disperse. The family home to a life now without a beloved son. His comrades to a table with an empty chair.
As they were leaving I met his father. We shook hands. There wasn't much to say. Nothing special I could do. No pain I could take away. Except one small thing. One small and heartfelt gesture of consolation. I said. "I will take care of him. He is in good hands now."
God bless you all. We are always with you.
Last edited by Stonewall; January 10th, 2007 at 21:57..