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Gesture of Farewell

There was a moment in the Memorial Chamber when Patty Braun seemed to lose her composure. There, on Parliament Hill, in the chamber devoted to Canada’s war dead, she looked into the Seventh Book of Remembrance where she could see her son’s name, “Corporal Braun, David Robert William, 22 August 2006, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.”

Silver Cross Mother Patty Braun places her wreath. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

Silver Cross Mother Patty Braun places her wreath.

There was a moment in the Memorial Chamber when Patty Braun seemed to lose her composure. There, on Parliament Hill, in the chamber devoted to Canada’s war dead, she looked into the Seventh Book of Remembrance where she could see her son’s name, “Corporal Braun, David Robert William, 22 August 2006, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.”

Surrounded by young people representing the youth of Canada and their families, she gazed into the book she had seen only once before in a travelling exhibit. The Seventh Book of Remembrance, In The Service of Canada, preserves the names of armed forces personnel who gave their lives in service of Canada since October 1947, with the exception of those who are listed in the Book of Remembrance for the Korean War.

Before leaving the Memorial Chamber, Sergeant Lyne Tremblay of the House of Commons Security Services presented Braun with a framed copy of the page. “You know, I’ve found that the things I thought would be hard were easy and the things I thought would be easy are really hard,” said the 2011 Silver Cross Mother who was in Ottawa to attend the national Remembrance Day ceremony.

Silver Cross Mother Patty Braun receives a page from the Books of Remembrance. [PHOTO: TOM MacGREGOR]

Silver Cross Mother Patty Braun receives a page from the Books of Remembrance.

Accompanied by her daughter, Daina, and wearing the Memorial Cross, as it is properly known, she would spend two days visiting the Parliament Buildings and the Canadian War Museum before placing a wreath at the National War Memorial on behalf of all mothers and families who have lost sons or daughters in the Canadian Forces.

An educational assistant at Raymore School in Raymore, Sask., 115 kilometres north of Regina, Braun said her son was always fascinated by the military and an avid consumer of movies and documentaries on the History Channel and elsewhere. Once, while on a road trip to Regina, she dropped him off at a recruiting station where the older recruits painted a rather tough picture of the military. “He was a skinny 17-year-old,” she remembered. “I think it scared him a little.”

After graduating high school and working a few years in Watson, Sask., David’s love of the military came through and he joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. “David wasn’t one to show a lot of emotion, but I think the day he showed the most emotion and pride was the day he told me he was going to serve in Bosnia,” she said.

The young corporal loved the overseas assignment which in many ways changed him. “He came back from Bosnia and was reading a book on the Peloponnesian War. Before that, I could never get him to read a book. Suddenly, he had this love of reading,” she added.

Having come out of one special duty area, the soldier was keen to go to Afghanistan. “He was to be stationed with the headquarters battalion, so I thought that would not be so dangerous,” said Braun, whose husband, Blaine, died in 1994.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, Dominion President Pat Varga. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, Dominion President Pat Varga.

Corporal Braun was on a replenishing convoy to a forward operating base when a suicide bomber attacked. He and another soldier were riding in the turret of a LAV III armoured vehicle. The bomber did not strike the LAV. He just came close and then detonated the bomb.

The Silver Cross mother said she has never had an official explanation, but heard that a small piece of shrapnel went underneath her son’s helmet, killing him instantly. The other soldier suffered only minor injuries. “At first I thought, why couldn’t it have been my son who had the minor injuries? But then I realized if it had been the other way, someone else would have lost a child.”

The day of the attack the mother was driving into Regina when she passed a blue van. “There is only one other blue cargo van in town. I just wondered where they were going.”

Waiting in the chiropractor’s office, Braun noticed that she had missed a call on her cellular phone. “We didn’t have call display…. I called my daughter and other sons and no one had called. Then I called my mother.

“When my mother answered, there was just silence. Then a male voice came on the line and he was so apologetic. I think it was then that I just lost it and said, ‘Just tell me! Is he dead?’”

She later realized the van she had passed on the way to Regina carried the soldiers coming to her house with the news. Not finding her home, they proceeded to her parents’ place nearby.

Braun attended a luncheon at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel hosted by Dominion President Pat Varga of The Royal Canadian Legion. As the organizing body for the annual service in front of the war memorial, the Legion wanted to give recognition to the participants both on the civilian and military side.

The youth representatives. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

The youth representatives.

Plaques of appreciation were presented to the national winners in the senior categories of the Legion’s annual literary and poster contests. Their prize was the trip to Ottawa and the chance to place the wreath on behalf of the youth of Canada during the ceremony. The winners were Atalanta Shi of Burnaby, B.C., for her colour poster, Tim MacDonald of Malagash, N.S., for his black and white poster, Katelyn Major of St. Brieux, Sask., for her essay and Laura Howells of St. John’s, Nfld., for her poem.

Also recognized were the recipients of the Legion Outstanding Cadet of the Year awards who assisted as the ceremony’s wreath bearers. They were Chief Petty Officer (1st Class) Laura Hood of the Nipigon sea cadet corps in Oromocto, N.B., Master Warrant Officer Kyle Ryan from the Ontario Regiment army cadet corps in Pickering, Ont., and Warrant Officer (2nd Class) Emily Hodgson of Hudson, Que., a member of the Lakeshore air cadet squadron.

In conversations prior to the ceremony, the youths recognized the rare chance they would have to participate in the national ceremony on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this century.

Serving Canadian Forces members. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

Serving Canadian Forces members.

Remembrance Day was cool, but dry in Ottawa. The forecasted rain held off, but temperatures never rose above three degrees Celsius. A brisk wind chilled the crowd of some 25,000, many of whom had arrived early to get a good view.

The Central Band of the Canadian Forces took its place as did the Ottawa Children’s Choir while the Dominion Carillonneur, Dr. Andrea McCrady, began to play sombre tunes on the Peace Tower’s bells.

Parading from the Cartier Drill Hall a few blocks away were contingents of veterans, officer cadets from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., the Canadian Forces contingents of navy, army and air force personnel, the cadet leagues and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Commanding the veterans’ parade was Léonce Leblanc who has fulfilled that duty since 1990. The Legion’s National Colour Party was led by Jim Wiles, a fixture in that role and at other major events since 1986.

The crowd was greeted by the master of ceremonies, Dominion Command Service Bureau Director Pierre Allard. Petty Officer (2nd Class) Jason Bode directed the sentries, representing the army, navy, air force, RCMP and nursing sisters to their positions around the huge monument unveiled by King George VI in 1939.

The crowd forms around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

The crowd forms around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The viceregal party began to arrive just before 11 a.m., and was greeted by Dominion President Varga and Dominion Secretary Brad White. Arriving early to talk to the veterans was Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk.

The CDS was joined by Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, arrived shortly after followed by Governor General David Johnston and his wife, Sharon.

Johnston made his first appearance at the ceremony in an army uniform, representing his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. He was met with the viceregal salute before everyone took their places.

At 11 a.m. sharp, a bell in the Peace Tower sounded the hour and the 30th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, fired the first of a 21-gun salute. Sergeant Marthe Jobidon played the Last Post, using a bugle, followed by two minutes of silence.

The silence was broken with the lament played by Pipe Major Thomas Brown and then the bugle sounded Reveille.

Children place their poppies on the tomb. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

Children place their poppies on the tomb.

Overhead during the ceremony was a flypast featuring two CF-18s from CFB Bagotville, Que., and seven Griffon helicopters. The helicopters performed the missing man formation, more often performed by the jets. This was in recognition of the role Canadian helicopters have had in Afghanistan and elsewhere. As the helicopters reached the war memorial, one helicopter trailed off to the side, symbolizing those lost in combat.

Varga read the Act of Remembrance in English, Legion Grand President Larry Murray read the act in French and Percy Joe read a version in Nlaka’pamux, an aboriginal language from the southern interior of British Columbia.

Brigadier-General Karl McLean, the chaplain general of the Canadian Forces and Honorary Chaplain of Dominion Command, led a prayer, and the ceremony’s wreath placing began with the Governor General, followed by the Silver Cross Mother. As Braun placed her wreath, she knelt to rest it on the stand. She then kissed her fingers and put them to the wreath in a gesture of farewell.

Veterans march past the Governor General. [PHOTO: METROPOLIS STUDIO]

Veterans march past the Governor General.

They were followed by Harper, Scheer, Blaney, Natynczyk, the youth of Canada and Varga who placed her’s on behalf of the veterans of Canada, followed by dozens of wreaths placed by representatives from the diplomatic corps, dignitaries, veterans groups and other organizations.

Dominion Command Honorary Chaplain Rabbi Reuven Bulka gave the benediction and the ceremony ended with a march past by the veterans and military contingents. The Governor General and Silver Cross Mother took the salute as the crowd cheered. The loudest applause was for the veterans’ group of older soldiers representing the Second World War, Korean War, peacekeeping operations, Afghanistan and peacetime service.

When the barriers came down, hundreds of spectators moved towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where many maintained the annual tradition of placing a lapel poppy on the tomb—each one representing a personal moment of remembrance and farewell.

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