To pay tribute to an “all-in” former student, Lacombe Composite High School itself went all in on Thursday at the annual Ceremony of Remembrance that was a little more “special and significant” than usual.
Byron Greff attended the school, graduating in 2001. Ten years later as a master corporal serving with the Third Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, he became the first Canadian soldier to be killed as part of the NATO mission to train Afghan military and police forces.
During the ceremony, it was mentioned how Greff’s decision to enlist in the military immediately after high school shocked his parents and friends.
He didn’t even play with plastic army men as a child, recalled Candy, his mother.
“It was not expected, but it was respected,” said student Katlyn Ost, presenting on Greff’s life during the ceremony.
He was remembered as a hilarious hockey goalie who lived to have fun; “a bit of a rebel, but in a good way.”
“His brain was a Wikipedia of jokes. The more he told, the more he laughed,” said Ost.
Greff was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when, on Oct. 29, 2011, he was one of 17 people killed when an explosives-laden car drove into the armoured bus he was riding in in the capital Kabul. His death at age 28 remains the most recent of the 158 Canadian military fatalities during the 11-plus year engagement in Afghanistan.
His mother said Thursday’s ceremony was a fantastic extension of all the support the family has received since Greff’s passing. Yellow ribbons became the marker of support and remembrance of Greff after he passed in 2011, and again on Thursday students tied the ribbons around snow-covered trees outside the school.
“The yellow ribbons when we came back from the repatriation in Trenton blanketed Lacombe,” recalled Candy. “They were everywhere. It was wonderful to see. You could feel it. Anywhere you went, you could feel the support.”
Greff had been home to celebrate the birth of his second child, a daughter, and have family photos done just a few days before he was killed. While his widow was not at the school ceremony, Greff’s father Gregory, mother Candy, sister Chelsey, and two young nephews were on hand as a memorial bench, memorial plaque and memorial portrait were unveiled, to be displayed permanently at the school.
“It just warms a person’s heart,” said Candy.
She said she feels “absolute pride” attending Remembrance ceremonies now and said despite her son’s soft-spoken nature, she could see in him the pride he felt at being able to improve the lives of Afghans. For those Canadians who may have lost their personal connections to the world wars and military sacrifice, she said she hopes they will simply be grateful for the lives they are free to enjoy.
“I hope that everyone will look at a Canadian flag, raise their heads, straighten their backs, and feel proud to be Canadian and live in this wonderful country,” said Candy.
Capt. Wayne Forster of the Canadian Forces told students to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers through all the conflicts Canadians have been involved in. He said the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil, currently on display on Parliament Hill, will travel across the country over the next two years.
“Always remember: freedom is not actually free,” said Forster.
The memorial bench, located to the west of the school building, sits where a garden is being developed.