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CFB Esquimalt ceremony honours those who served in Afghanistan

Nancy Mansell, wearing a poppy, and family members attend Friday's National Day of Honour ceremony at CFB Esquimalt.

Nancy Mansell, wearing a poppy, and family members attend Friday's National Day of Honour ceremony at CFB Esquimalt. Her son, Myles Mansell, a 25-year-old Langford reservist, died when anti-tank mines were detonated under his G-Wagon on April 22, 2006 in Afghanistan. Like other ceremonies held around the country on Friday, the gathering commemorated those who served and those who died during Canada’s time in Afghanistan.

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On Parliament Hill, tributes for 40,000 soldiers, veterans of Afghanistan

Murray Brewster and John Ward, The Canadian Press
Jeff Bell, Times Colonist

As Canadians paid tribute to the 40,000 soldiers who took part in the country’s 12-year Afghanistan conflict, padre Phillip Ralph gave thanks for the small mercies that come with the end of a war.

It means the Baptist minister from Ajax, Ont., will no longer get those three o’clock in the morning telephone calls when there were casualties.

Ralph’s job was to be “a door-knocker” along with another officer and tell families that a loved one wasn’t coming home, a task the reserve force captain of over 20 years carried out five times.

His searing, intimate view of the conflict was a world apart from the thundering 21-gun salute, the marching bands, the fly-pasts and the cluster of armoured vehicles on Parliament Hill Friday for a nationally televised commemoration that played down pomp and emphasized practical.

When the country was asked to pause for two minutes of silence (at 10:30 a.m. PT), it was the families to whom Ralph had the “privilege of ministering to” that came to mind.

“On the one hand, some of those families you wish you’d never met under those circumstances, but on the other hand it was a privilege to know such wonderful families who allowed their sons, their daughters, their husbands, their wives to serve,” he said.

Some of those families were among hundreds feted at a closed-door breakfast where many in the close-knit community were able to catch up with one another and proudly thrust photos of their lost loved ones before Ottawa’s political and business elite.

Later in the day, they sat in bleachers on the wind-swept lawn in front of Parliament to witness the display of national appreciation before a crowd of a few thousand mostly uniformed members of the military, veterans and civil servants, some of whom ate their lunch and ducked out when the speeches started.

The National Day of Honour was billed as a way for a nation to show its appreciation, but municipalities and community groups, such as the Royal Canadian Legion, were thrown into a fit of last-minute planning. Some, notably Summerside, P.E.I., moved their events to today to ensure a good turnout.

Among the events scheduled in Greater Victoria were a ceremony at CFB Esquimalt with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, a parade and ceremony in Sidney attended by Green party Leader Elizabeth May and a ceremony at the Britannia Legion in Victoria with Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin as a guest.

The CFB Esquimalt ceremony was held at the Wall of Valour, which commemorates members of the Canadian Navy decorated for acts of bravery. Air force Capt. Jenn Jackson, a CFB Esquimalt spokeswoman, said the ceremony was well-attended by military personnel, veterans, the public and members of the families of Bombardier Myles Mansell from Langford and Penticton native Capt. Jonathan Snyder, both of whom died in Afghanistan.

Fortin said being at legion event was a chance to be part of something special. “First and foremost, we’re honouring those who served when called by their country,” he said. “Fundamentally it’s about celebrating the end of the mission and mourning those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

In Ottawa, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to offered the country’s formal gratitude. “I’d like to offer you my deepest thanks for your service and your sacrifice,” said Johnston.

The flash and brass that jazzes up many military ceremonies was toned down. The fly-past involved Chinook and Griffin helicopters, a Hercules, an Airbus and Globemaster transport planes.

These workhorses that carried the loads in the 12-year campaign lumbered over the Peace Tower, stark against a slate-grey sky. They included a hulking Leopard tank and a Bison armoured ambulance; a Coyote reconnaissance vehicle and a long-barrelled M-777 howitzer that can throw a 155-mm projectile 30 kilometres.

A relay of wounded Afghan veterans travelled to Ottawa carrying a baton which held the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan. The baton was handed to Harper, who then handed it over to Johnston, the formal commander-in-chief of the Forces.