“Like I say, only the good die young,” Roxanne Priede of Grand Forks, B.C., tells The Globe and Mail.
Roxanne is the mother of Master Corporal Darrell Jason Priede, a military photographer who stole the hearts of his family, friends and fellow military personnel with his quiet voice, fantastic listening skills and photographs that left the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command spellbound.
“[His photography] was definitely more than a job…his pictures were top-notch,” said Lieutenant Brian Owens, public affairs officer at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown to The Toronto Star.
But quicker than the click of a camera, this promising talent died at just 30 years old in a helicopter crash on May 30, 2007, with a Nikon slung around his neck. He became the 56th Canadian to die while serving in Afghanistan since 2002.
Bewildering, unexpected and tragic, his death sent shockwaves through command, especially after Priede touted the safety of his position as a photographer. Seventeen years after his untimely death, Priede’s work remains a remarkable contribution to the photos of the war in Afghanistan.
“He really wanted to do something that would show more of what the military stood for.”
Born in Burlington, Ont., on April 2, 1977, Priede spent only two years in the province before moving west to Greenwood, B.C., and finally to Grand Forks. After graduating from Grand Forks Secondary School, Priede joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1996 as a gunner with the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.
The quiet Canadian served as a peacekeeper during two tours in Bosnia. He realized he would much rather be behind a camera than a gun.
“He really wanted to do something that would show more of what the military stood for,” his mother told The Globe and Mail.
Priede was assigned as a photographer for the ISAF Regional Command, its headquarters located at the Kandahar Airfield.
He arrived in Kandahar in mid-April 2007, shortly after celebrating his fourth wedding anniversary with his wife Angela. It was only a little over a month later when tragedy struck.
In the evening of May 30, after the helicopter had just dropped off 40 U.S. soldiers assigned to attack a Taliban position, Priede boarded the CH-47 Chinook as a passenger along with five American crew members and an additional British military passenger during Operation Athena, Canada’s four year combat mission in Afghanistan.
At 9 p.m., while flying about 95 kilometres northwest of Kandahar over Kajaki, a town in volatile Helmand province, a rocket-propelled grenade brought the chopper down.
There were no survivors.
“I think [photography’s] a very critical part of the mission because it gets back home to the soldiers what’s happening on the frontlines.”
The Taliban took credit for the attack and, because of the sheer amount of insurgents populating the crash site, an air strike was necessary for military personnel to investigate the area.
His photography is well known to many in the military, and his work has often been featured on Canadian Forces Combat Camera website, which tells the story of Canadian Armed Forces operations since 1990.
Priede’s close confidantes within and outside the CAF were devastated—and yet, they still recognized the importance of his photography and his sacrifice.
“I think [photography’s] a very critical part of the mission because it gets back home to the soldiers what’s happening on the frontlines, all the good that is being done too that perhaps isn’t being captured in other media,” Owens told the Star.
“The progress achieved in Afghanistan would not have been possible without men and women like Master Corporal Priede, who put themselves on the line every day,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Priede later received a posthumous Sacrifice Medal and became the namesake of another award—the Master Corporal Darrell J. Priede Top Candidate Award, for a 2007 Army News Course.
Roxanne was also named the National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother in 2012.
Today, Priede’s image is solidified in military members’ memories not through a photo he took, but a photo taken of him. In this picture, Priede is seen holding the Stanley Cup, basking in its shine.
“That’s the image that will stay with me,” Colonel Ryan Jestin of CFB Gagetown told reporters. “That sort of pride and that sort of home-grown Canadian boy we’re all going to miss.”