June 20, 2007 1500hr
Hundreds of people with Canadian flags and yellow ribbons pinned to their chests gathered outside a small, red-brick church in Bowmanville, Ont., on Wednesday, to pay their respects to fallen soldier Trooper Darryl Caswell. As his casket entered Bowmanville United Church for the funeral service, Trooper Darryl Caswell’s brother Logan, 12, saluted. Trooper Caswell, 25, was killed in Afghanistan on Logan’s birthday, June 11.
Caswell died last Wednesday while riding in the lead vehicle in what the Canadian Forces call a combat logistics patrol, a dangerous mission that involves restocking forward operating bases and soldiers in the field with everything from ammunition and equipment to rations and water.
The convoy was headed to the district of Khakriz in northwestern Kandahar province when it struck an improvised explosive device about 40 kilometres north of the city of Kandahar.
Yellow bows hung from lamp posts and trees along the town's main streets, flags flew at half-mast and signs in the windows of local shops expressed condolences to the family of Caswell, who died last week in an explosion.
His military funeral was held Wednesday afternoon in community where he was born and attended high school, a town of 30,000 residents, 75 kilometres east of Toronto.
A poster reading "Remember Darryl" sat in the window of Ken Harker's almost 10-year-old music store.
"I did it to let (his family) know my thoughts are with them ... that they're not forgotten," he said, shortly before the funeral procession passed on the street.
Inside the Trinity United Church, Caswell's mother, Darlene Cushman, thanked the community for their support.
"You'll never know what it means to me," she said.
She said she would be sending her son's fellow troops in Afghanistan cases of Crystal Light packages to flavour their bottles of water. The eight boxes she sent her son the last time were gone in an hour, she said.
He would have wanted his military family taken care of, she said. More people watched a live telecast of the service in adjoining rooms. A crowd of more than 100 stood across the street. A war veteran in a motorized scooter had come from a nursing home around the block, and high school students had trickled over after classes.
Shortly after 3 p.m., a piper led Caswell's flag-draped coffin into the church, where Lafave said the soldier was baptized. Caswell's hat, a single medal on a black pillow, and a knife, rested atop the casket. Cushman clutched a tan-coloured quilt as Lafave led the mourners in singing "Amazing Grace.'' She made it through a few strains before tears doubled her shaking body over.
"A mother can never prepare for this,'' Caswell's mother, Darlene Cushman, said as she eulogized her 25-year-old son during his funeral service Wednesday, her voice choked with emotion and barely audible.
Then, gesturing to his coffin below, she said, "half my heart is lying below me.''
Some people wiped their eyes as Caswell's flag-draped coffin was carried out of the church to the sound of bagpipes. As the hearse drove away, down a street flanked by soldiers, veterans and police officers, community members applauded and filled the road behind the vehicle.
"Whether you agree or don't agree with the war, it goes beyond that," Ximena Davidson said of her presence. She sat in the shade with her nine-month-old daughter.
"It goes beyond that when it's an individual," her neighbour, Jill Doswell, 52, added.
Mourners faced dozens of photos of Caswell as a small boy, as a graduate, as a soldier. There were pictures of his motorcycle and shots from his recent vacation in Australia, hugging a Koala bear.
"All of the ribbons, all of the people, it's amazing how supportive the whole town has been," said Kayla Myers, who flew back to her hometown from Australia for her friend's funeral.
Cpl. Darren Hann, 23, who went to high school with Caswell said the town's response has been "overwhelming."
"I've always been proud (to be a soldier) but it lifts the morale," he said.
When a police cruiser drove by with a sticker of a yellow ribbon on its bumper, Hann said: "It's great to see that. (People) may be against the war but at least back up the soldiers who are defending your country."
During the service, Caswell's stepmother, Christine Caswell, asked the congregation to "remember all of the other soldiers who have served this great country, Canada, in our time of need."
"Three more families (are) going through what we are going through," she said, referring to the three Canadians killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, bringing the total of Canadians who have died in Afghanistan since 2002 to 60.
"Our thoughts are with them."
She invited everyone to stand and face the soldiers in the church and hall.
"Thank you for your sacrifices ... We are so proud."
In November, Darryl Caswell's belongings arrived home, including his diary. The 25-year-old soldier, who got to Afghanistan in late January 2007, writes about his frustrations and his appreciation for Afghanistan. He describes how one of his best friends was killed and how he watched his body being loaded into a helicopter. He writes that he does not know how he will deal with people back home "who waste their time and walk circles in the dark, not knowing how well off they are just being born a Canadian."He writes that he would come to Afghanistan again, but only for the children."These people have been kicked … so many times by countries, it's no wonder they have trust issues," he wrote. "If Canada pulls out, all will be lost once more."In May, his name was added to the top of the granite pillar. His entry reads simply "Afghanistan," a few inches above his name.