OTTAWA — A clearly emotional Governor General Michaelle Jean presided Monday over the first presentations of the new Sacrifice Medal.
Of the first 46 medals, 21 are posthumous awards.
The medal is awarded to members of the Canadian Forces, or civilians working with the Forces, who are killed or wounded by hostile action or to any member of the military who dies because of a service-related accident or disease.
The Governor General told the soldiers and families assembled at Rideau Hall for the ceremony that Canadians share their pain and grief.
“You are not alone,” she said.
She said she met many family members during sombre repatriation ceremonies at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., where the bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan return home.
“Many of you have shared your pain with me,” she said.
Jean, who is titular commander-in-chief of the Forces, paid tribute to those who have fought and are fighting still in Afghanistan.
“I must bow my head before you, to pay tribute to you and to express my respect and gratitude.”
She said their sacrifices have become part of the country’s collective history.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on hand for the ceremony and offered his thanks.
“Time and again, Canadians have proven themselves to be among the bravest, most skilled and most successful soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen on earth,” he said.
“I want to thank each and every one of today’s recipients, as well as their families and loved ones, for nobly upholding Canada’s proud tradition of courage and sacrifice in the face of any odds.”
The round, sterling silver medal, which hangs from a black, red and white ribbon, bears the image of the Queen on the front. The back features the word Sacrifice and an image of the Canada statue that is part of the Vimy Memorial in France.
Sgt. Lance Hooper who has been twice wounded in Afghanistan, received the medal and a bar, signifying a second award.
One of the new medals went to the family of Glyn Berry, a diplomat killed in a car bombing near Kandahar in 2006.
Another was accepted by Ben Walsh on behalf of his son, Master Cpl. Jeffrey Walsh, who died in an accidental shooting in Afghanistan.
The medal was originally to be awarded only to those killed or wounded by hostile action, but Ben Walsh persuaded authorities to change the rules to make anyone killed in military service eligible.
Among the non-Afghanistan dead cited Monday are Capt. Juli-Ann Mackenzie, killed in a 2002 helicopter crash, and Pte. Arielle Keyes-Oliver, killed in a training accident at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., a year ago.
The medal is only awarded for deaths or injuries after Oct. 7, 2001.
During the Second World War, soldiers were entitled to wear wound stripes, small pieces of gold braid awarded for each combat injury. The stripes were resurrected again in 1990 and have been awarded to a number of soldiers wounded in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
The new medal replaces the stripes.