KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The families of six Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan had a chance to share some memories, laughs and tears in an emotional visit to Kandahar Airfield on Sunday.
A special ceremony and fresh wreaths were laid at the cenotaph for Cpl. Nathan Hornburg, Sgt. Scott Shipway, Cpl. Mike Seggie, Cpl. Christopher Stannix, Cpl. James Arnal and Sgt. Darcy Tedford.
As part of the ceremony, a letter from each family was placed in front of the faces and names of each of the slain soldiers that are carved into the black marble of the war memorial.
“We could write anything we wanted — a letter of goodbye, a letter of healing, a letter to say come home or we love you. It’s something every family did,” said Candice Ziolkowski of Halifax as she lovingly fingered the silver cross she was given after her spouse, Cpl. Christopher Stannix and five others were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb April 8, 2007.
“I wrote you told me not to come and now I’m here because I’m here to take you home. So I told him, I missed him, I loved him and really wanted him to come home,” she said softly. “I figure Chris stayed here to protect the rest of the soldiers because that’s who he was. His body may have come home but his spirit stayed. I’m here to take him home.”
Ziolkowski is also in the Canadian forces as a medic in the reserves and said Stannix never wanted to go to Afghanistan and see the kind of hardships she had endured.
Sgt. Darcy Tedford, who was based in Petawawa, Ont., left behind his wife Charmaine and his two little girls when he was killed in an ambush nearly three years ago.
This visit was something she needed to find closure but it wasn’t easy.
“It’s heartwrenching because you look forward and you work hard to work through and try to live a normal life and this kind of brings it all crashing back,” she said. “Hopefully we’ve done enough work and this is a moment to remember and will bring that sense of peace and let us move forward.”
Her letter included the fact she loved and missed him but also included a thank you.
“My first line was, ‘bet you’re sitting here wondering, who the hell is this woman because that’s not my wife,’ ” Tedford said with a smile. “ Yeah he would have been surprised with a lot of things that I’ve done since he’s died. One of the things I said in my letter was thank you for giving me your positive attitude. I think it’s helped me survive this.”
Ziolkowski said she missed her husband’s smile and laugh the most while for Tedford it was his sense of humour and attitude toward life.
“He was a torment and I never thought I would say I miss being picked on but he would do it and I could never stay mad at him. He always made me laugh and the kids absolutely miss him like crazy. He was an amazing father,” she sighed.
One of her daughters turned eight last week and the other will be 10 next month.
Michael Hornburg of Calgary was spending his day remembering his son Nathan who died after being hit by a mortar two years ago.
“The whole experience has just renewed my commitment and my faith and belief in men and women of the Canadian forces in their humanity and the obvious realization that they are the creme de la creme of Canadian society,” he said proudly and noted being able to speak about the mission “was a final gift” from his son.
The Canadian Forces has been regularly bringing the families of the slain soldiers over to Afghanistan. All are being given the opportunity but not everyone is interested.
Col. Jean-Luc Milot accompanied the family members as a guide and said it is beneficial for many who come here.
“All families for the most part have told us they found closure by coming to Afghanistan and participating in these celebrations we’re organizing for them,” he explained.
“They’re coming to Afghanistan to actually touch the ground where their son, daughter or husband has died and they have found some closure by being here.”