Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bridge Not Far

We were in Rundle Park this morning for the observances at the Eleventh Hour; past the pedal boats and the frisbee golf course, there is a footbridge, and that is where we ended up.

The structure spanning the North Saskatchewan is called Ainsworth Dyer Memorial Bridge.  If the name sounds familiar, it's because you heard it several times in 2002 after 4 Canadians from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were killed in a 'friendly fire' incident by US airmen that April, one of them being Corporal Dyer.  He would have been 25 in July.

Ainsworth Dyer proposed to his fiancee on the bridge, as attested to in the plaque, not too long before he was killed. After his death, his fiancee's father, Aart Vansloten, and others campaigned to have a memorial stone and plaque erected there, and the bridge was named after him.  It's an appropriate spot, not only because of his proposing there, but also trained there for the 'Mountain Man' competition.

Each year, Ainsworth's would-be father-in-law makes a small wooden cross for each Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan.  Each cross bears their name and rank in addition to a green-centred poppy, and has a nail in the base so it can be planted in the ground easily.  This year he made 152.

Some of the crosses are placed by friends or family of that individual, should they happen to be in Edmonton, but the members of the public who have come out to attend this brief ceremony are asked to set the remainder.  Glory was uneasy about participating, but Fenya placed Pvt. Kevin Dallaire, Audrey Cpl. Andrew Eykelenbloom, and myself Cpl. David Braun, the 23rd, 26th and 27th Canadian casualties in Afghanistan.

It was by no means a polished ceremony; there were starts and stops, frequent interjections of feedback from the tiny PA system they'd brought, and somewhat shaky renditions of "Last Post" and "Oh Canada" on the trumpet, but despite all this, it was still one of the most memorable Remembrance Days I have ever experienced.  So what if the trumpeter wasn't smooth?  I would rather listen to shaky human than a perfect recording on any November 11th.  The feedback was annoying but not deafening, and the entire affair had elements of simplicity, sincerity and honesty that far exceeded larger presentations with colour parties and artillery salutes.

It takes a long time to read 152 names.  They were read aloud in pairs, each pair of crosses having been placed in the frosty ground not far from the bridge and those carrying them having had a chance to pause, or bow, or snap off a crisp salute before the following pair were read.  I'm guessing it took close to half an hour to read them all, but the crowd of close to two hundred stayed to hear the list in its entirety.  It was only a little above freezing, and the sneakers I had flung onto my feet as we rushed out the door were entirely insufficient for the task of keeping numbness from my toes, but I thought of colder places, like Flanders and Korea, and kept my complaints to myself.

The chaplain who assisted with the ceremony was very clear about remembering all Canada's fallen, not just these most recent ones.  He specifically mentioned the two World Wars and Korea, as well as Canada's peacekeeping efforts around the world.  His feeling was that all of these men and women, their lives spanning a globe and almost a century had one thing in common: that they had died in the belief that the world can be a better place, with security and safety and the rule of law.

I wish I could tell you that I can remember all 152 names, but obviously I can't.  I am still grateful for the opportunity to have heard all these names, even once, and to realize that they are not numbers, they are not statistics, and to remember that they are individuals, and sons and daughters and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and friends and lovers, and some of those who were touched by their lives were stood with me today.  And others, strangers like myself, felt compelled to step forward and commemorate at least one name, by carrying a cross a little ways.

All in all, I felt this was a moving and incredibly personal way to observe Remembrance Day.  I am grateful to Mr. Vansloten for his efforts making these crosses every year, for giving all Edmontonians an opportunity to participate in Cpl. Dyer's memorial.  I am confident we will return to this bridge next year as well.

(An Edmonton Sun video about the bridge ceremony; of all the people to show placing a cross, I had to be one of them?)

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