Every time this happens, two days from my past flash through my mind.
The first was a day that didn’t seem like anything when it started. I was in college, it was Friday morning – production day for the paper, and we were putting it all together. Two of my classmates were at the base, CFB Trenton, where families were saying goodbye to the soldiers who were about to ship off to Afghanistan. The war had just started, we didn’t really know what was going on yet, and my classmates didn’t know that their story and photos were supposed to be going on our front page – it had been decided that morning. Melanie, the photographer, had come back without Jeff, who had decided to stay behind and complete a few more interviews. I was given the task of driving down to the base to pick Jeff up and get him back to the newsroom to type up his stories as quickly as possible (with the caveat that I wasn’t to break any laws).
I drove up the highway, got onto the base and drove around trying to figure out where everyone was. When I finally found the building, parked and went inside to find Jeff it was completely overwhelming. You could feel the emotions in the air. I should have realized then that I was never meant to be a reporter, because just by being in the room with these wives and husbands and children I felt like I was intruding. These were the private moments of people saying very difficult goodbyes.
It didn’t take me long to find Jeff, explain the situation and get back out the the car, but I’ve never forgotten what it felt like to walk into that room.
The second day was much more difficult.
It was the first day of the Summer Pioneer and the four Canadian soldiers killed by friendly fire were arriving back in Canada that day, at CFB Trenton, and I was on base.
I stood amongst the media, watched the Hercules land, watched them unload the coffins – watched the wives’ faces as they did.
The two things that affected me most that day were watching the media run, literally run, to get the story. It seemed that while I was empathizing and watching the scene before me, almost in disbelief, they were all trying to get the best shot. I was unprepared for that.
The second was seeing the hundreds of people lined up outside. Civilians were not allowed on base, so they all stood outside the fence, lining the highway. It was the first time that had happened, now we call it the Highway of Heroes. One of my most cherished pictures is one that stired much debate among my classmates – it shows mourners framed by the chain-link fence watching one of the four hearses drive by. One of them is holding a Canadian flag. To me, it says everything there is to say about that day.
I felt privileged to be on that base, sharing such a private moment with those families, saying a silent thank you to those four men, now counted as the first of 112.