Sadness, outrage and even defiance were expressed as veteran soldiers gathered with other Central Albertans at Red Deer’s Cenotaph Saturday, in memory of the two Canadian soldiers killed on home soil.
“We stand up for Canada” by remembering the sacrifices of Corp. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, said Bobbi McCoy, national vice-president of Alberta and Northwest Territories Command of the Royal Canadian Legion.
She was among 25 local vets and civilians who stood soberly side-by-side as bag pipes played to mark two minutes of silence in memory of the murdered soldiers at 10 a.m.
These tragedies have united Canadians, and “it’s very important we stick together now. To be killed on home soil is never acceptable,” added McCoy.
Cirillo, 24, was gunned down Wednesday by an Canadian-born Islamic extremist while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, while Vincent, 53, was purposely struck and killed last Monday by a car driven by a Muslim convert in Quebec.
Indignation about those acts was expressed at the memorial gathering — as well as pride in the role of Canadian soldiers.
Vince Martin, a former Canadian Forces serviceman who, like Cirillo, hails from Hamilton, Ont., said he has “strong feelings” about extremists threatening Canadian freedoms. “I think that was brought home this week to a lot of other Canadians,” he said. “I think we need to be prepared and vigilant.”
Although off-duty Canadian soldiers were ordered not to wear their uniforms as a precaution after the killings, veterans proudly displayed their medals and insignia at the Red Deer gathering. “I think it’s always important to wear it, and even more so now,” said Martin.
Retired Canadian Forces Sgt. Bob Dale, who served in Bosnia, Croatia and Germany, was born in Ottawa, said he’s very upset by this week’s deaths, saying Canadians don’t expect their soldiers to be killed at home during peacetime.
But what happened to Cirillo and Vincent resulted in an outpouring of Canadian pride in their soldiers. Dale, who stood vigil at the Cenotaph a couple of evenings this week, said people have been stopping to shake his hand and bring him hot chocolate. “One woman hugged me and she was crying, she was that emotionally upset.”
Soldiers have often felt isolated while serving their country and this kind of public endorsement shows their contributions are valued, Dale added.
Support for soldiers can be seen around Central Alberta, where people have been raising Maple Leaf flags — including about 30 on the south side of Hwy 11 towards Sylvan Lake.
A waving flag as well as a burst of spectator applause also greeted a regiment of reservist soldiers who marched to Red Deer City Hall at noon on Saturday.
The symbolic “Freedom of the City” parade to honour military units that have provided service to the community was several months in the making, but suddenly took on more poignant significance, in light of the killings of two Canadian soldiers.
“This city is indeed free,” said Mayor Tara Veer, due to the men and women who have defended Canada in the past and present. On behalf of the citizens of Red Deer, she thanked the reservists in the 41 Signal Regiment for their efforts after conducting a ceremonial inspection of the troops.
“The tragic events of the past week are evidence that our freedoms are paved with sacrifice,” Veer added.
This cold fact gave former mayor Morris Flewwelling another perspective on public service. Flewwelling, who watched the parade, said “This is an aspect we don’t often think of — people risking their lives.”
City resident Marissa Hutchison came to honour the soldiers at the Cenotaph because she has a great-grandfather who fought in the First World War and two great uncles who were in the Second World War. Having just given birth to a baby boy, she said she hopes her son won’t have to go to war someday.