Friday, May 21, 2010

Close to Home

Although Canada decided not to put our forces in Iraq, we’ve had boots on the ground in Afghanistan since 2002. Until more recently the conflicts in Iraq have unfortunately tended to overshadow the efforts of those fighting elsewhere in the world. What’s important to remember is that the men and women of our military, regardless of where they posted/deployed, are signing their lives away, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary. This is something I have always believed... but it really hit home for me today.

Pte. Kevin McKay, who is from my hometown, was killed by an IED while on foot patrol outside of Kandahar City on Thursday May 13th just two days short of his return to Canada and his family. Of course, when I heard this news it saddened me as much as any of the other fallen soldiers we hear about on the news. I think about what their last moments of life were like, their families and friends, and I can’t help but wonder when it will be enough.

Kevin,  his convoy travelling The Highway of Heroes from CFB Trenton, was repatriated on May 16th. The Highway of heroes is the BEST example of every reason I am proud to be Canadian. For those who don’t know, it is a stretch of highway 401 the leads from CFB Trenton (where our fallen soldiers return home) to Toronto. For several years now, when a fallen soldier returns home, proud and thankful Canadians, emergency personnel and anyone else who wants to give thanks, lines the highway and bridges by the hundres or thousands, waving their Canadian flags to say goodbye and pay respects to the hero. It is the most beautiful display of patriotism I have ever seen.

I saw the coverage on the news that night and again I was sad, as I always am, but still, it hadn’t fully hit me.

Today, while running some errands on my lunch I saw many people walking the streets of downtown in suits and dresses, wearing poppies, and realized that today was the day of Kevin’s funeral. I saw a large group of people walking towards me clearly coming from the funeral. As I got closer, I realized they were all teachers from my high school. It all sort of hit me in a flash; teachers from my high school, same hometown, age 24… Kevin McKay. I quickly returned to the office and pulled up a search of Pte. McKay’s picture and background. Sure enough, it was the same Kevin McKay who had been just 1 year behind me in high school. It hit me like a ton of bricks to the chest.

I hadn’t been friends with this boy, and I wouldn’t even call him an acquaintance… but my school wasn’t that big. All I can think about is how for 3 years I would have passed him in the hall, perhaps stood behind him in line, and never EVER though he would later become “that local soldier who died in Afghanistan”. We’re not a military town, so it’s not something you think about or are prepared for. I’ve never had a soldiers death hit this close to home before and it really affected me. It made it seem real and it made me realize just how young these people who are fighting to maintain our freedoms really are. I wish I had put the pieces of the puzzle together earlier and I would have attended his funeral to pay my own personal respects.

I have a lot of opinions on the various wars going on around the world, on Canada’s involvement (or lack of) in them, and on the politics behind them. But the one thing I remain firm on is that regardless of whether or not I support the war efforts from a political point of view, I will always support, and be forever grateful to the men and women in our military. This is more true to me today than it’s ever been. I will be forever grateful to the boy who I passed between math and science class, the boy who I bumped shoulders with in the hall, the boy who had some of the same teachers and friends I did… the boy whom I never thought would die in protection of my freedom. He didn’t even know my name, but now I know his and I will never forget it.

Rest in peace soldier. And thank you.

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