Family honours Espanola soldier during ceremony in Ottawa

The names of other Sudbury-area soldiers on the Kandahar Cenotaph

A toy soldier, placed by the daughter of Pte. David Robert James Byers, adorns his plaque on the Kandahar cenotaph in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall following its rededication ceremony at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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The family of a soldier from Espanola got to honour him over the weekend as the controversial Kandahar Cenotaph was rededicated at its new home in Ottawa.

Catherine Jane McKay Byers attended Saturday’s ceremony to honour her son, Pte. David Robert James Byers, who died 13 years ago at age 22. She says she was frustrated with how things were initially handled when the Kandahar Cenotaph was first opened, but was glad that “they listened to us” after complaints were made.

“It was really, really disgusting. It was very upsetting that we were forgotten. We’re the ones that live with this every day. We’re the ones that celebrate birthdays, see our grandchildren grow up without a father. That is our reality.”

The Canadian Forces had been criticized by soldiers’ families and the public when it dedicated the cenotaph in Ottawa in late May with only senior officials present. The event was inexplicably kept secret for several days until the military quietly announced it on social media.

The Canadian Armed Forces paid tribute to Canada’s Fallen in Afghanistan during a rededication ceremony of the Kandahar Cenotaph in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at the National Defence Headquarters, Saturday August 17, 2019. Catherine Jane Byers, mother of the late Pte David Robert James Byers. Ashley Fraser/Postmedia

 

The cenotaph had originally been unveiled at the Forces base in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003. Its centrepiece is made of a boulder from the site of where Sgt. Robert Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger were killed by a mine that year, numbering among the first Canadian soldiers lost in Afghanistan.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance later apologized for the military’s mishandling of the event.

Emotions ran free in Ottawa as the Canadians killed in Afghanistan were honoured during a sombre ceremony attended by hundreds of family members, many of whom continue to struggle with the loss of their loved ones.

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission, which started shortly after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, journalist Michelle Lang and two civilian contractors were also killed during the war.

Pte. Byers and three other Canadian soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in September 2006. His daughter was born seven months after he was killed.

Pte David Byers, a member of 2 PPCLI, was killed on Sept 18, 2006 by a suicide bomber who attacked his patrol in Afghanistan.

His daughter and mother were among the 600 family members to attend Saturday’s ceremony.

“We’re the ones that live with this every day,” Catherine Jane Byers said as she stood outside the specially built memorial hall where the cenotaph, comprised of plaques bearing the names and pictures of the fallen, is housed.

Pte. Byers was a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He is survived by his parents, John Leslie and Catherine Jane Byers of Espanola, fiancee of Chantal Roy, daughter Layla Roy-Byers, and brothers Nathan and Alan.

He is buried in Espanola.

Contrasting the earlier dedication, which was closed to all but a few dozen officers, the weekend ceremony saw an overflow crowd as officials and artists paid tribute to the fallen soldiers.

“You know what has been lost,” Gov. Gen. Julie Payette told the families in the crowd. “A wound that this memorial can acknowledge, even if it cannot fully heal it.”

The Canadian Armed Forces paid tribute to Canada’s Fallen in Afghanistan during a rededication ceremony of the Kandahar Cenotaph in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at the National Defence Headquarters, Saturday August 17, 2019. A young lady looks at the tribute to the fallen in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall. Ashley Fraser/Postmedia

 

Payette pondered the sight of Canadians who would stand on bridges over Highway 401 with signs and flags as a salute to the deceased soldiers whose bodies were being taken to Toronto from CFB Trenton.

While she said she had been moved by the sight, Payette told the gathered assembly that “those of you here today know more deeply than those civilian Canadians who were waiting on the 401 what that sacrifice was.

“In a very real way, what they did was an act of love. In the words of St. John, there is no greater love than this, than the person who lays down his life for the sake of his friends. If these words have meaning, and I believe they do, then the men and women we honour today loved greatly,” she said.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also spoke, as well as Gen. Vance and representatives from the Afghan and American embassies. There were also musical tributes: country artist Terry Kelly performed his song Portraits of Honour, and the Ceremonial Guard Band and Army Voices Choir performed works by Pipe Major Alan Clark, as well as several traditional military works.

Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, chaplain general of the Canadian Forces, led a prayer and the actual rededication of the cenotaph itself.

Afterward, Catherine Jane Byers and several other relatives of those killed in Afghanistan told reporters they were grateful for the second ceremony, during which Payette, Sajjan and the rest underscored this country’s gratefulness to those who paid the ultimate price — and the loved ones they left behind.

Pte. Byers is only one of a number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan with ties to the Sudbury area and who would be remembered at the Kandahar Cenotaph.

Cpl. Glen Arnold, a medic from nearby McKerrow, died in the same suicide bombing that killed Byers.

The others include:

Trooper Mark Andrew Wilson, who was born in London but was operating a bed and breakfast and outfitting company in Killarney. He died Oct. 7, 2006, when an IED struck his vehicle.

Warrant officer Gaétan Roberge was killed, along with another soldier on Dec. 27, when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device just outside Kandahar city.

Sgt. Martin Goudreault, who was looking for a stockpile of insurgent weapons shortly after dawn when a makeshift bomb detonated, killing him, in June 2010.

Pte. Andrew Miller, 21, from Greater Sudbury, and another soldier were killed when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck a bomb in June 2010.

– with files from Postmedi and Canadian Press.

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If you want to visit

Future visitors to the memorial will have to email Canadian Forces first (at visitorafghanmemorial-visiteurmemorialafghan@forces.gc.ca) to set up an appointment.

 

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