“Let it be written upon you as it is written upon me.”
The landscape was drenched in the brilliant orange of an Afghan sunset as our three-vehicle convoy lumbered towards Kandahar city.I was in awe of the beauty before me. Jagged rock mountains shot up like dragon’s teeth reaching for the sky, the green foliage of the pomegranate orchards contrasted starkly with the khaki desert.
I was standing in the hatch of a LAV (light armored vehicle) behind a machine gun, my thumb resting on the safety switch ready to fire at any moment. I’d only been in the country for a month and the novelty of being a Canadian soldier in a war zone had yet to wear off. I chatted with my driver Darren Fitzpatrick over the intercom of our vehicle, reporting anything I saw that might be suspicious.
Remembrance Day. Afghanistan, 2009
Before I knew it night had fallen and the cold of the wind whipping my face surprised me. I looked at my watch through the green lens of my night vision goggles. It was 10:30pm, the 12-hour time difference would mean it was 10:30am back home. It was November 11th, 2009 and I knew crowds would be forming in city parks across Canada for their Remembrance Day ceremonies.
It felt strange knowing that my family and friends were thinking of me at this very moment. I wondered if I would be alive in November 2010 … Or if I would be one of the names added to the list on the stone cenotaph in Kelowna city park. Perhaps, I thought, there might be men living and breathing next to me who would soon only be a memory, etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
We made it safely to our destination that night and slept outside, under the stars, beside our vehicles. Before we fell asleep I talked briefly with Fitz about the peculiarity of being in a war zone on Remembrance Day. He was more interested in sleep than discussion. Little did I know that in a few months a photo of him would be splashed across the newspapers of Canada, mourning the death of our 147th soldier in Afghanistan.
On March 6, 2010 it was his turn to go on a foot patrol of the Zhari-Panjawaii area with ten other soldiers. He stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), planted by the Taliban, and was wounded horrifically. Like the fighter he was, he lived for two weeks and made it home to see his family before succumbing to his wounds and dying on March 21st.
When we were told he had died, I felt like vomiting.
My friend who had been next to me for so long was now a memory. I could hardly fathom that someone so human was now immortalized in the history of our nation. Growing up, I’d always seen them as faceless shadows, drifting through my mind as we stood during the moment of silence. It now dawned on me that every man and woman we remember, was human too. They had fears and insecurities, they laughed and they loved.
A few hours after being told the horrible news, I managed to find time to sneak away and listen to a song by Switchfoot entitled “Yesterdays.” It’s about losing a friend and remembering them like yesterday. There’s a line in it that captivated me: “Every lament is a love song.”
On November 11, as Canada laments its war dead, she is singing her love song. You see, this day was not born out of honor or respect, but out of love. The love had for these men by their mothers, who cuddled them as children, their sisters, who thought the world of their courageous brother, their fathers, who were so proud, their wives, who knew them unlike any other, and the men who fought alongside them and wouldn’t hesitate to trust them with their lives. I fear that as these men and women become faces in a history book and we bronze their image into that of the brave warrior, we begin to forget their humanity. We cannot forget that they lived and breathed just like us.
If you saw the face of Darren or any other Canadian soldier killed oversees in the news, then you too are a witness to the horror of war. Let it be written upon you as it is written upon me.