It was a day of mixed emotions for Captain Simon Mailloux. In the morning he became one of the first 46 individuals to be recognized with the new Sacrifice Medal presented by Governor General Michaëlle Jean and that evening he was shipping out for another tour of operations in Afghanistan.
Walking now with a prosthesis that uses the latest high technology, he was philosophical when speaking to reporters after the Nov. 9 ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. “Going to war is not something we like to do, but it is something we have to do,” he said.
Mailloux, then a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, was commanding a LAV III near Masum Ghar in Afghanistan on Nov. 17, 2007, when it struck an improvised explosive device. Two other soldiers, Corporal Nicolas Beauchamp and Private Michel Levesque, were killed in the incident.
Mailloux’s left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Walking confidently, Mailloux said, “It is a difficult thing for an amputee in the Canadian Forces to prove that you are still able to deploy.”
Mailloux had recently been posted as an aide-de-camp to the Governor General. When he returns to Afghanistan he will have a behind-the-lines job planning strategies and will not likely be riding in a LAV III. “I will do what I am called upon to do,” he said. “I can be hard-headed.”
Memories of injury and loss were mixed with pride at the ceremony as the Governor General spoke before the recipients and families receiving the first Sacrifice Medals.
“A few weeks ago, I returned to Afghanistan for the second time since becoming Governor General. I saw you hard at work, ensuring security and stability in that part of the world, which is coming to grips with violence, oppression and misery. I know about your dangerous working conditions and the enormous risks you face,” said Jean. “I know, too, about your deep sense of commitment and the strong ties that unite you in life and death. Abandoning your mission or your platoon is not an option for you.”
Of the medals presented, 21 were awarded posthumously. “I see many familiar faces here, too,” said Jean. “I met a number of you on the tarmac at the Trenton military base. You allowed me to grieve with you and, for that, I thank you.”
Joining the Governor General at the presentation were Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk, both of whom shook hands and had a few words with each of the recipients. Natynczyk’s encouraging pats on the shoulders of the service personnel remaining in uniform could be heard throughout the hushed room.
Among those receiving the medal was Master Corporal Paul Franklin who lost both his legs in a suicide attack while serving his second tour of duty with the Provincial Reconstruction Team and now assists other injured military personal. He was joined by Master Bombardier Bounyarattanaphon Makthepharak, who suffered severe internal injuries when struck by shrapnel from a rocket attack on the Kandahar Airbase in 2006. Both soldiers were featured in a Legion Magazine article on recovering soldiers (The Quiet Fight, November/December 2007).
Master Corporal Jody Mitic, who lost both legs below the knees after stepping on a landmine in 2007, was also present to receive his award. He had recently been cheered on by Natynczyk while he ran a five-kilometre race to raise money for Toronto’s St. John’s Rehabilitation Hospital (On The Move With The CDS, July/August).
Many familiar sad stories were brought to mind as relatives came forward to accept the posthumous awards which were presented to, among others, Captain Nichola Goddard, Canada’s first woman combatant to die in a gunfight and diplomat Glyn Berry whose car was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Also recognized was Lieutenant (Navy) Christopher Saunders who died in the fire aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Chicoutimi as the submarine was crossing the Atlantic after being purchased from Britain in 2004.
The Sacrifice Medal is awarded to members of the Canadian Forces who have been wounded or killed by hostile action after Oct. 7, 2001. It can also be awarded posthumously to any member of the Canadian Forces who died under honourable circumstances as a result of injury or disease related to military service.
It also recognizes wounds that require not less than seven days of treatment in hospital or an equivalent course of treatment that were caused by exposure to the elements as a consequence of an aircraft, vehicle or vessel being destroyed or disabled in hostile action; harsh treatment or neglect while a captive of a hostile force or the use of nuclear, biological or chemical agents by a hostile force.
A contemporary effigy of the Queen facing right and wearing a Canadian diadem composed of maple leaves and snowflakes is on the obverse of the medals. The words “Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina” and “Canada” appear.
On the reverse of the medal appears a representation of the mother figure weeping for her lost sons on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. The inscription “Sacrifice” appears in the lower right half of the medal.
The ribbon is a wavy, or watered, ribbon, 32 millimetres wide with a 10-millimetre black central stripe flanked by red 11-millimetre edges with a one-millimetre white stripe. The black represents the mourning of the dead and shock of the wounds, the red represents the blood shed and the white suggests hope for the future. Red and white are also the official colours of Canada as decreed by King George V in 1921.
The Sacrifice Medal falls in the Canadian Orders, Decorations and Medals Directive between the Royal Victorian Medal and Gulf and Kuwait Medal. A bar may be awarded for further occasions which would warrant the award of the medal.
The medal is manufactured by the Royal Canadian Mint and made of sterling silver and lacquered to prevent tarnishing. The medal is engraved on the edge with the service number, rank, initials and surname of military recipients and the forename and surname of civilian recipients.
Also significant in the ceremony was that Ben Walsh of Regina was there to accept the medal posthumously presented to his son Master Corporal Jeff Walsh who was killed by the accidental firing of a fellow soldier’s gun while on patrol in Kandahar in 2006. Under the criteria originally announced on Aug. 29, 2008, Jeff Walsh would not have been eligible for the medal since his death was not caused by hostile actions (Governor General Announces Medal For The Wounded, November/December 2008).
Ben Walsh, a retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, mounted a campaign to have the criteria reviewed. Shortly afterwards, Defence Minister Peter MacKay asked the Chief of Defence Staff to conduct a review of the existing criteria and make appropriate recommendations. A ceremony at Rideau Hall to present the first medals in 2008 was postponed.
That review resulted in a broadening of the posthumous criteria for the medal to cover all service-related deaths rather than only those which were the result of direct hostile action. As noted in a Department of National Defence news release, the change brought the posthumous aspect of the medal in line with the newly amended criteria for the Memorial Cross and for inclusion in the Seventh Book of Remembrance. All other aspects remained unchanged.
Walsh said later, “I started this journey back when the Sacrifice Medal was first announced, not only for my son but for all members of the Canadian Forces who die in accidents…Today, I feel my journey has ended.”
Although he said he was angry when the medal was first announced he now says, “Whatever Ottawa would have decided would have been all right. But I am happy with the result.” He added that the medal would be given to Jeff’s widow Julie who lives in Shilo, Man.
Harper wrapped up the ceremony saying, “Time and again, Canadians have proven themselves to be among the bravest, most skilled and most successful soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen on Earth. I want to thank each and every one of today’s recipients as well as their families and loved ones, for nobly upholding Canada’s proud tradition of courage and sacrifice in the face of any odds.”