Monday, June 25, 2007

Soldiers Returned Home


June 24-07 1730

A bag piper played three separate tributes to the latest Canadian casualties killed in Afghanistan as the bodies of three Canadian soldiers were returned to Canadian soil Sunday.

A grey military aircraft carrying the bodies of Sgt. Christos Karigiannis, Cpl. Stephen Bouzane and Pte. Joel Wiebe flew into this eastern Ontarion military base to be greeted by grieving family members.

Gov. Gen Michaelle Jean, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier were also present.

As a former governor general, Clarkson attended the ceremony in her military capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of Edmonton's 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the unit in which all three men served.

Before the plane landed, Hillier addressed a throng of supporters who lined the gates surrounding the tarmac while waving Canadian flags.

Trenton, Ont. resident Brenda Miller said she stands outside the gates of the tarmac during every repatriation ceremony.

"I wish they'd come home better," she said, waving a small flag inscribed with the names of all 60 Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan.

"I'm just so upset I can't even talk tonight."

Once the doors of the military aircraft opened, the soldiers' caskets were carried from the aircraft in descending order of rank.

Visibly-emotional family members of each soldier were physically supported by one another as their loved ones completed their final journey home.

Karigiannis' body was the first to be lifted from the aircraft and returned to his grieving family. One relative wept and held her face in her hands as she welcomed him home.

As Karigiannis' body was loaded into a waiting hearse, Bouzane's family held onto one another as they prepared to receive him.

One family member held out a pink rose and kissed it as soldiers marched across the tarmac bearing Bouzane's casket.

Another clutched a framed photograph of the 26-year-old.

After paying personal tributes to their fallen soldier, Bouzane's family stood aside as the casket containing Wiebe's body was carried from the aircraft.

Speaking last week, Wiebe's fiancee Anna Thede described Wiebe as a committed soldier who was devoted to family, adding that he had life-long aspirations for a military career.

"This job is what Joel chose. This is the job that Joel wanted," she said. "He was very proud to be a part of this."

The three soldiers were killed Wednesday when their unarmoured vehicle, known as a Gator, was struck by a roadside bomb west of Kandahar.

The soldiers' deaths caused the Canadian military to suspend the use of Gators outside secure compounds.

Roadside bombs are responsible for more than one-third of the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

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