10 years later ... we remember the day that the world changed

As the Portraits of Honour National Tour rolled into Edmonton, AB this weekend, we knew it was going to be different than any of our other stops. 

This weekend would be devoted to celebrating heroes and courage, determination and resolve. 

This weekend, we would not only celebrate the members of our Canadian Forces who have served.  We would not just be honouring the 157 fallen heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice in our mission in Afghanistan.

This weekend would mark the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks that took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  This weekend, the world would be thrust back mentally to exactly where they were when they learned of the horrific acts of that fateful day.  Most of us watched on TV as World Trade Center's North Tower (1 WTC) burned. 

With news cameras focused on this tragedy, and while still not fully understanding that this was a terrorist attack and not an accident, we watched in terror as the second plane crashed into the South Tower (2 WTC) just 17 minutes later.  And suddenly our worst fears were realized.  We were under attack.

Few can ever erase the images of these mammoth 110 story towers collapsing floor on top of floor like a poorly made layer cake.  The eerie silence that followed and the cloud of dust, smoke and debris that slowly pushed its way out of ground zero became surreal.

Soon, the media would learn about the attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, VA where hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the military installation at over 500 mph, penetrating the concrete and steel walls of the outer two rings of the highly secured and fortified building. 

And later we would come to learn about United Flight 93 which had been hijacked and pointed to targets in Washington, DC.  Passengers aboard, realizing that their fate had already been sealed and that they faced certain death, made last minute phone calls to loved ones advising that they were not going down without a fight and that they were going to subdue their attackers before they could reach their target of (what is suspected to be) the White House or Capitol Building.  The plane was forced to crash in a field in Shanksville, PA.

While the attacks took place on United States of America soil, they were attacks against the entire free world.  2,996 people from over 90 countries were killed in these cowardly attacks.  It was an attack on our freedom and our way of life.

On October 7th Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that Canada would contribute forces to the international force being formed to conduct a campaign against terrorism. General Ray Henault, Chief of Defence Staff issued preliminary orders to several CF units, and Operation Apollo was established and was quickly followed by Operation Anaconda.

Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew kitted up and prepared to go to war.  Our navy ships were the first to deploy.  And so began the journey of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.  The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) would be the first soldiers to be called up.

10 years later, the Portraits of Honour National Tour would find itself at Edmonton Garrison, home of the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, the home of the PPCLI, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, 1 CMBG Headquarters & Signal Squadron, 1 Military Police Unit, 1 Service Battalion, 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron and 1 Field Ambulance.

The weekend was not solely devoted to the Garrison’s ceremony on Sunday.  On the Saturday military units, equipment and members joined us at the Mayfield Trade Centre for a public viewing of both the mural and the Seventh Book of Remembrance which had been brought from Ottawa by Veterans Affairs Canada.

As evening approached, the display trailer moved inside into the ballroom that would become the venue for the evening’s gala dinner featuring His Honour, Colonel (Retired) the Honourable Donald S. Ethell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Major-General Jonathan Vance and Colonel Omer Lavoie. 

Several Silver Cross family members were in attendance and we had the opportunity to meet them at a private reception prior to the dinner.

As Maj-Gen Vance remarked, it was an evening that would be a bittersweet and tough balance between the sorrow that we share in the loss of our troops and the celebration we have our troops and their “wins” in their mission in Afghanistan.

Sunday’s ceremony at the Edmonton Garrison started with an unveiling of the mural and was followed by a speech by Brigadier-General Paul Burry, Deputy Commander, Land Forces Western Area.  BGen Burry was quick to praise the efforts of Kin Canada and artist Dave Sopha for their efforts in honouring his troops.

Following the ceremony, the mood brightened as Kinsmen and Kinettes from the Capital Region gathered to put on a BBQ while children and families enjoyed the entertainment that the Kin arranged for including inflatable bounce houses and a puppet show.

It’s hard to pick any one moment on a day as special as yesterday.  There are so many.  So many tears, so many smiles, so many people who went out of their way to participate.

For this scribe though, my moment came as I was departing the event at the end of the day.  It was then that I bumped into the wife and family of Sgt. Shawn Eades who was killed alongside two other soldiers on August 20, 2008.  We’ve become very good friends with Shawn’s mom Bev.  She’s become a part of the POH family.  We had the priviledge of meeting Sgt. Eade's wife Lisa, for the first time, at the gala the night before.

But today, I would have the wonderful experience of meeting Sgt. Eade's and Lisa's daughters Breanna and Niya.  You could never imagine two more beautiful children.  They are so proud of their Daddy and you could see how proud their Mom and grandparents (Lisa’s Mom and Dad who live nearby) are of them.  They are as strong as they are cute.  They didn’t stay too long to visit … the bouncey house beckoned in the distance and they wanted to go play.  I listened to them giggle as they ran away.

It was the perfect way to end  a very special day.

Ground Zero's memorial park opened to the public yesterday.