File photo Zachary Cormier/Red Deer Express

Fallen reservist honoured with living memorial

He was the 71st Canadian soldier to die in the Middle East

CALGARY — Rachel Herbert’s two children never had a chance to meet their uncle before he was killed in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago.

Her brother, Cpl. Nathan Hornburg, a 24-year-old reservist with the King’s Own Calgary Regiment, became the 71st Canadian soldier to die in the Middle Eastern country on Sept. 24, 2007. The Canadian Forces reported he was killed after being hit by a mortar while he tried to put a track back on a Leopard tank under fire.

Herbert says her son William Nathan Herbert, 9, and her daughter Avery, 7, have grown up hearing about their uncle.

“They’ve grown up knowing stories about him as a big, soldier-hero figure and they get to know his friends, so they have soldier uncles … that are still part of our lives,” said Herbert from her ranch near Nanton, Alta. “In between school and their hockey practice, we went to the Nanton cemetery where Nathan and my mom and my family are interred. That’s where we had our snack.

“It’s just a spot to go. My kids have grown up with death and remembrance just part of their daily lives.”

A living memorial to Herbert’s brother was unveiled at The Military Museums in Calgary on Sunday.

The Leopard armoured recovery vehicle, with the name HORNBURG emblazoned on the front, was declared surplus a year ago and has a new home at the museum. The Leopard, which saw service in Afghanistan, is still fully functional. It engine emits a deep throaty roar.

“My kids never got to know their uncle so this is just a really tangible way that they can connect with him as a person,” Herbert said. “It’s something physical they can see and they know he was driving one of these vehicles.”

Bill Schultz, a retired lieutenant colonel, says the museum wants the vehicles to be more than virtual statues on a concrete pad “that some kid might climb on for two minutes.”

“The aim is to keep these vehicles as living memorials,” Schultz said.

“They can get in there. They can feel the tightness of the vehicle, the smell of the diesel. They can experience the noise levels, the clanking of it and go away with something that’s going to stick in their memory.”

Schultz is close friends with Michael Hornburg, who became a familiar figure after his son’s death, as he raising money for many military-related charities in Calgary. When Hornburg became gravely ill a year ago, the dedication ceremony was delayed until now.

A plaque, with Nathan Hornburg’s likeness, is attached to the side of the vehicle. Schultz said the reservist chose to go to Afghanistan because he wanted to make a difference.

“This was not a career soldier,” said Schultz.

“We couldn’t have done the Afghan mission without what we call the ‘citizen soldiers’ — the reservists, who had daytime jobs, daytime careers and spent their spare time in the military to do like Nathan did, to go into combat.”

Former reservist Heather Vanderveer, who works with the Calgary Leopard Tank Historical Squadron, a volunteer group that keeps the armoured vehicles at the museum running, said it was a hard decision for many reservists.

“It is completely your choice when they come to you and say,’We have some openings for Afghanistan, Bosnia’ … whatever,” she said.

“Do you want to put your name in? You do not have to make that choice to go, but you choose to because you want to serve your country.”

There were 158 Canadian Forces personnel and four civilians killed during the Afghan conflict.

— Follow ↕BillGraveland on Twitter

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