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  1. #1

    Who do you remember?

    A friend wrote this.

    A few days ago, I read an account by a young mother describing her nightly ritual with her daughter. It is an act of remembrance they share, which gives this little girl a connection to a father she will only know through stories, photos and videos.

    “Tell me about Angel Daddy!” Olivia requests often during her evening tuck-ins. I tell the story of her father much the same way each time; “Your angel Daddy’s name is Scott Francis Vernelli. His friends called him Scotty. He was sooooo cool. He was such a good hockey player and had lots of friends. Mommy loved his big blue eyes and when you were born you had the same ones. Your Daddy was a soldier. He travelled to faraway lands to help kids just like you.” She smiles the whole time and she asks the same questions. “Will I see him one day Mum? He’s in the stars, right Mum? He has biiiiiiiig (extending her arms and she explains) angel wings, right Mum?”

    “Mum” is Marcie Lane, a former imagery technician with the Canadian Forces. Before I left for Afghanistan in September 2008, Marcie took my picture. It was that picture, the one the military has on file for every deploying member. This picture, if it appears in the media, announces that something has gone terribly wrong on the other side of the world. At the time Marcie was quite pregnant, radiant and beautiful, occasionally rubbing her belly the way mothers do when little unborn arms and legs are stretched.

    “Angel Daddy” is Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli. While I was preparing for my first deployment, he was going to Afghanistan for the third time. With his experience they would have needed him in Afghanistan as early as possible, but his superiors made sure that he was on one of the last flights out of Canada so he could be at Marcie’s side for the birth of their daughter. They also made sure he was able to get home for Christmas that year, to spend time with his fiancé and baby daughter, then 3 months old.

    A few months after that Christmas together, we were on an operation in Zhari District. My crew commander had just finished photographing the sunrise, and we were settling down to a Panjwai Breakfast Special (3-in-1 instant coffee and cigarettes). Suddenly we heard that familiar and ominous hollow boom to our southeast, followed by a rising column of smoke and dust. And just like that Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, Cpl. Tyler Crooks and interpreter Wally were gone. Shortly after we received word that there had been another IED blast up in Shah Wali Kowt, which took the lives of Troopers Jack Bouthillier and Cory Hayes of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. In both of these incidents many more Canadians were seriously injured, and an exponentially greater number of lives back in Canada were about to be turned upside down by an unexpected knock at the door.

    These stories are not unique; throughout our history thousands of Canadian children have grown up knowing their fathers only through family pictures and stories of how they lived, the lives sacrificed to make the world a better place. And countless thousands of lives have been forever changed by that unwelcome visitor bearing devastating news.

    I was one of the lucky ones; I returned home after seven months in Afghanistan relatively unscathed. I don’t think anyone returns from an experience like that without losing at least a small piece of their soul, and we all have our ghosts to deal with, but at least I made it home. These days I wear a flight suit instead of a combat uniform, and my ambulance is an orange helicopter instead of a dusty eight-wheeled armoured behemoth. But other than the occasional sleepless night or conversation with my ghosts, life has rolled along pretty much as it should.

    As our involvement in Afghanistan winds down, there are 158 families for whom nothing in life will ever be the same. They will adapt, go on with life and figure out their own rituals of Remembrance; but nothing will ever be the same. Marcie will never know how the next chapter of her love story would have been written. Someday little Olivia will know that Angel Daddy is looking down on her, beaming with pride as she graduates from high school, walks down the aisle, does something great with her life. But will that be the same as seeing his eyes as they well up with tears of joy? Will that make up for the lost bedtime stories, fun adventures and the awkward-looking boys intimidated by “Soldier Daddy” when they pick her up for the high-school prom? Not by a long shot.

    That is something I think about on Remembrance Day. The wounds that will never heal, the gaps in the lives of those left behind. Please keep these families, especially the children, in your thoughts and prayers.

    Philip Hunter is a medical technician in the Canadian Forces Reserves. He served in Afghanistan in 2008-2009 as the driver on an armoured ambulance crew stationed at forward operating bases in Zhari and Panjwai districts. He now lives in Ottawa and works as a flight paramedic with Ornge.

    Who do you remember?

  2. The Following User Likes This Post By Rhino Rob :

  3. #2
    J. Nichol is on a distinguished road J. Nichol's Avatar
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    I never met him and I know relatively little about him, but for years i've been moved by one Private Franklin D. Aish.

    I first learned of him through my last summer in the army cadets, when I was selected for the Maple Leaf Exchange in 2009. On one of our last days in Europe, we took a trip to Vimy Ridge. We read names of the missing on the momument, took our group photo, then went into two of the nearby cemetaries. I decided to enter the smaller cemetary, and as I walked down the rows, I noticed that every grave had the same date on it: April 9th 1917. The first day of the battle for Vimy Ridge. That graveyard is where I met Aish.

    For this forum and cadets in particular, this picture really hits home.

    He was just 16.

    I never forgot about him. This year, on the 95th anniversary of the day he gave the ultimate sacrifice, I went back to Vimy as a chaperone with my old corps. After the rain-soaked youth ceremony for the fallen in the larger cemetary concluded, I made a point of returning to his grave. Now that I knew he was there, I had written him a letter in my FMP, and thought to have a picture taken.

    Lest we forget.
    Oi, switch on!
    2870 Royal Canadian Dragoons (Ret'd SSM)
    lsm armycsm1
    33 Signal Pte

  4. The Following 4 Users Like This Post By J. Nichol :

  5. #3
    I remember four from my family:

    My great great uncle: Private Addison Graham Baker, 911400. He volunteered in 1916 and was posted to the 196th western universities battalion (he was a teacher). He lost an eye at Vimy Ridge, due to a shell around a week after he moved into the tranches.

    My great great grandpa: Paul Baker, 3216086 was drafted in 1918. He was trained as a infantryman, even though he had a permanent limp, and could of stayed and helped out on his farm.

    My great grandpa fought in world war two, but that is all we know about him. All we have left of him is a picture of him in uniform.

    My uncle was a captain in the reserves. He was deployed in Bosnia. He left the reserves to be with his family.

  6. The Following User Likes This Post By matthew114 :

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