Thursday, August 23, 2007

Roses and Tears

"Simon left us in dignity while proudly serving his country with tremendous honour, amongst his brothers in arms in Afghanistan," the message said. "He left for his mission at peace with himself and his family." ~ Longtin Family

An Honor Guard carries the casket of Private Simon Longtin
to hearse at the Canadian Forces Base Trenton, August 22, 2007.

Pte. Simon Longtin's father Maurice Longtin (centre) and his son Pte. Benoit Longtin (right) make their way to the hearse with Manon Daoust after Pte. Simon Longtin's casket arried in Canada during a repatriation ceremony Wednesday. Photo Credit: Adrian Wyld

TRENTON, Ont. – Benoit Longtin wasn't standing with his grief-stricken family when the remains of his brother, slain Quebec soldier Pte. Simon Longtin, arrived from Afghanistan today.
Instead, he was among the eight uniformed men who carefully hoisted the flag-draped casket on their shoulders and carried it towards a waiting hearse. Their parents, Simon’s girlfriend and about seven other family members, each carrying a single rose, met the plane. Some of the other family wept quietly as a trumpeter played Amazing Grace while his flag-draped coffin was carried from the Hercules 130 transport plane to the hearse. While the other soldiers faces largely remained stoic, Benoit’s lips quivered and tears streamed down his cheeks as he carried the coffin to the black hearse. As the mourners approached the car, a visibly upset Benoit – who recently completed basic training – joined his father at the head of the group, gripping his hand tightly as the tears were finally allowed to fall.
Some of Canada's top civilian and military leaders joined Longtin's family and loved ones to receive the remains of the young soldier, whose death was the first in Afghanistan for his Quebec-based regiment – a province where support is low for the Canadian mission.
Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier and former chief of defence staff retired general Maurice Baril, were among the many dignitaries who stood alongside Longtin's family as the body of the 23-year-old member of the Royal 22nd Regiment – known as the Van Doos – arrived at this eastern Ontario military base.
At one point during the repatriation ceremony, Jean put her arm around one of the mourners, offering some comfort as the woman, clad in black, wiped away tears.
The group, which included Longtin's father, Maurice Longtin, his mother, Johanne Larente, and his girlfriend, Debbie Duclos-Bedard, watched tearfully as the casket was carried across the wind-swept tarmac.
Pallbearers stepping slowly to the mournful notes of Amazing Grace. Longtin's stepmother, Manon Daoust, as well as his aunt, uncle and several cousins were also in attendance.
Family members carrying red or white roses gently laid the blooms on top of the casket, some wiping away tears before walking away. His head bent forward and arm outstretched towards his dead son, Maurice Longtin said his silent goodbyes then backed away slowly, sorrow etched across his face.
Longtin, from Longueil, Que., died Sunday after his light-armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. More than 1,000 soldiers from 37 countries paid tribute to Longtin at a ramp ceremony in Kandahar Airfield on Monday.
On Wednesday, dozens of Canadian soldiers, who military officials said were bound for CFB Gagetown and travelled on the same military aircraft that carried Longtin's remains, poured out of the plane and stood in formation as the casket was lowered to the ground.
Dozens more onlookers, including a number of bikers, gathered outside the razor-wire fence, carrying flags and standing in solemn tribute to the fallen soldier.
In a recent statement, they echoed the comments of Longtin's fellow Van Doos, painting a picture a soldier who embraced military life and his mission in Afghanistan.

Some of Longtin's fellow soldiers in the Van Doos 3rd Battalion have appealed to Quebecers to be "better informed" about the objectives of the mission before passing judgment, adding that they believe in it and want to carry on the work.

On a personal note: My son was one of the honour guards in Trenton on this day. An true honour bestowed upon him -bringing home a fallen comrade.

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