Pride in Canada’s military has always been a dignified and understated series of gestures in my hometown of Trenton, Ontario.
It is decidedly more important that Trenton provides a calm family life for those men and women whose business is war.
More and more, Trenton has received the burden of receiving home the remains of Canada’s fallen military personnel. The name “Trenton” is first said in quiet tones on the doorsteps across our country as families are beckoned to sad reunions with their loved ones.
“Trenton” is the word they only half hear, in their grief, as the place they must go to take their own away from the military and once again into the embrace of family.
From here, in the Yukon, I could not be more proud of my hometown.
So, when I was there on vacation, I felt obligated to shoulder some of the responsibility Trenton has endured these past few years.
It began with the all-business, emotionless news report over the radio. Two more Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan.
There was no call to gather along the streets. Instead, quiet mental calculations were made and the people of Trenton knew that if today is Saturday, then they would be needed on Tuesday.
My Mom and my brother’s family decided that a visit to the military museum at C.F.B. Trenton would be a suitable place to start our remembrance.
The museum is on the path to the 401 Highway, which was renamed the Highway of Heroes from Trenton to Toronto, where each soldier’s body is taken for processing.
It is a chance for citizens of Brighton, Cobourg, Port Hope, Oshawa,Whitby, Pickering and Toronto to stand on overhead bridges to offer tribute to these soldiers.
I asked the kindly volunteer at the front desk of the museum what time the hearses would pass by. She said it would normally take 30 minutes after the plane lands, but, her voice dropped with the gravity of her words, “There are two this time. It will take another 15 minutes.”
Two fatalities. Two broken families.
We were out there at 2 p.m. People had already started to gather along the RCAF Road. Some wore red, many carried Canadian flags, all of them spoke in hushed tones.
We were all glad we could be there to show our support to the families, but sorry that we had to.
Sure enough, 45 minutes after the plane landed, the motorcade was spotted just over the rise in the road. There were no shouts of acknowledgement, no gasps.
Nobody took photos. Nobody applauded. The flags were not waved, they were just held.
We each looked into the windshields and side windows of the limousines with the intention of just making eye contact with the families. That’s it. Just to let them know we understand the pain.
Instead — and I can only speak for myself because I was totally unaware of anyone or anything around me — I was overwhelmed with the speed of the hearses. This wasn’t a parade and they didn’t slow down to be observed. Just as that bomb blast was unforgiving in its destructive force, this motorcade was unforgiving in its mission to re-unite this family.
But I did retain one snapshot in my memory of this: a young man in one of the limousines, uncomfortable in a suit, leaning toward the window with a camera.
He was taking a photo of us.
I was encouraged. I felt my presence helped in some little way. To this family, “Trenton” may no longer be the name of the last place they saw their loved one before leaving for Afghanistan. And it may not be associated with the finality of seeing the coffin removed from the cargo hold of the CC-150 Polaris.
Maybe, to them, the city of Trenton will be remembered as the gentle community that shared their grief and said to them, as the new plaque for the air base’s gate reads so eloquently, “Stand down soldier you are now homeward bound.”