Families of fallen soldiers attend Nov. 11 ceremonies in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Heavy hearts were lifted just a little Wednesday during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada’s Afghan war zone, where widows came in hopes of finding meaning in their sacrifice and the next generation of veterans moved to firm the nation’s resolve.

Nicole Starker

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Heavy hearts were lifted just a little Wednesday during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada’s Afghan war zone, where widows came in hopes of finding meaning in their sacrifice and the next generation of veterans moved to firm the nation’s resolve.

Afghan National Army soldiers stood by their Canadian counterparts as a small crowd, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Industry Minister Tony Clement among them, gathered around the sprawling marble cenotaph at Kandahar Airfield.

The memorial is etched with the names and faces of the 133 Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002 — a list that includes Cpl. Michael Starker, who was killed in a gun battle with Taliban insurgents in 2008.

“I miss him,” said Starker’s wife Nicole, who was among the family members of seven slain troops who made the trip to Kandahar to mark Remembrance Day in the country where their loved ones gave their lives in the name of a greater cause.

“Happy memories… hopefully those will come with time. Mostly it’s just pain right now, still.”

The trip to Kandahar was the fifth such visit arranged by the Canadian Forces, which aims to help relatives cope with the grieving process of losing a loved one.

“I knew him as a man, a husband, an uncle, a brother, but not really as a soldier,” Nicole Starker said. She wore a pin in the heart of her poppy emblazoned with her husband’s initials.

“To be able to see where he was and to visit the place that took him — that’s a huge part of our life, and his death, that I didn’t have.”

After meeting privately with Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Abdul Bahshir, the families attended a modest ceremony that followed the traditional laying of the wreaths.

Task Force Kandahar’s normally composed commander, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Vance, struggled to keep his emotions in check as he told them their presence was “good for all of us.”

“May our warm embrace comfort you now, and in years to come,” he said, pausing to restore the tenor to his voice.

The relatives took part in what has become a tradition for next-of-kin returning to Afghanistan: writing a letter to their loved one and leaving it by their name-plate on the cenotaph, which is also etched with an image of each soldier.

As one father left his letter, he gently brushed the impression of his son’s face, looked skyward, and returned to his seat.

“In a letter you can say those things you can’t say out loud, or maybe don’t want to say out loud,” said Rachel Leary, whose husband Capt. Richard Steve Leary, 32, of Brantford, Ont., was killed in a shootout with insurgents in 2008.

“It was tough, I cried all the way through it. But it was done — I just felt I got to say the things I never got to say.”

With the pain, however, anger also lingers.

“I have mixed emotions about the land of Afghanistan,” Nicole Starker said. “I guess I hate the terrorists. I hate the people who killed him.”

With anger, there is also resolve.

Vance was joined by MacKay in awarding a Sacrifice Medal to Sgt. Vince Adams, making him the first to receive the newly minted decoration in Kandahar.

Adams had his abdomen ripped open by shrapnel from a suicide bomber in 2006. After months of rehab, he convinced his family to let him return for another tour in 2009.

“I want to win (the war),” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like, but I don’t want to walk away for nothing.”

It is the moral dimension of a mission often shrouded with grey areas that provides solace for those who seek to understand the contribution their loved ones have made.

“Their children deserve to go to school, they deserve to know how to read and write,” Leary said of the Afghan people. “But those weren’t things they were given, and I’m proud to say my husband was part of that.”

Just Posted

City Hall Park construction begins next week

Construction to update Red Deer’s City Hall Park is set to begin… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Jazz at the Lake begins

The 16 annual event began Friday and runs until Sunday in Sylvan Lake

Photos: Lunchtime tunes on Alexander Way

Final concert of the summer

Clearwater regional firefighters in B.C.

Crew operating west of Prince George

PHOTOS: Samson Cree Nation Pow Wow

The Samson Cree Nation hosted its annual Pow Wow, celebrating youth last weekend

WATCH: Feasting at Red Deer Ribfest this weekend

Ribfest runs until Sunday at Rotary Recreation Park

Street Tales: Life is filled with unlearned lessons

There are days that I almost believe evolutionists in that we are… Continue reading

Canadians believe in immigration but concerned about asylum seekers: study

OTTAWA — Canadians are generally supportive of current immigration levels, a survey… Continue reading

Quebec announces plan to compensate taxi drivers after Uber’s arrival

MONTREAL — The Quebec government has outlined how it intends to compensate… Continue reading

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

OTTAWA — The loss of Saudi Arabian resident physicians in Canada’s hospitals… Continue reading

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

Death Valley worker has seen highest, lowest temperatures

LAS VEGAS — Thousands of tourists descend on Death Valley each summer… Continue reading

Banff’s Sunshine ski resort upset with proposed guidelines from Parks Canada

BANFF, Alta. — An internationally known ski resort in Banff National Park… Continue reading

Folk singer Ian Tyson cancels show due to ‘serious medical situation’

TORONTO — Canadian folk singer-songwriter Ian Tyson has cancelled his appearance at… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month