Pte. David Byers eEulogy (September 18, 2006)

Deaths hit Sudbury-area town hard
Sep. 26, 2006. 08:48 PM


ESPANOLA, Ont. - The cenotaph outside this town's legion hall bears the names of 26 soldiers, local men who ``served till death'' in the name of their country.
Two more names - the first since 1968 - will soon be etched into the towering grey stone.

Pte. David Byers, 22, was born and raised in Espanola, while Cpl. Glen Arnold, 32, grew up just five kilometres away in the tiny northern Ontario hamlet of McKerrow. On Sept. 18, they died together - victims of a suicide attack in Afghanistan that has left their neighbouring hometowns struggling to cope with the loss.

``We care about all the soldiers we lose there, but when it hits home it's devastating,'' Leslie Stewart, a friend of both families who is spearheading a yellow ribbon remembrance campaign, said while sitting at her dining room table, a bolt of ribbon on the kitchen countertop.

``Every person I'm talking to is reacting with shock and disbelief. They want to do something to show the families their support.''

Arnold would travel daily from his hometown - which boasts some 450 residents situated on a handful of roads with one convenience store and a boarded-up tavern - to attend school in Espanola, a town of 5,500 some 70 kilometres west of Sudbury.

Arnold's family was equally active in the community; he had relatives working at the massive pulp and paper mill that drives the local economy, while his mother Leona served for years as a school trustee.

The loss has proved almost too much for some in a town where everyone knows everyone else, a place that's now dotted with Canadian flags flying at half-mast.

``What can you say? I picked up a (condolence) card today. I have no words,'' said Jackie Ardiel as she tended to chores outside the house where she's lived for 36 years.

``This street alone is like a family. It's two families that have lost their babies. It makes your little problems so tiny.''

Just two weeks ago, Arnold's father George visited the legion hall where he and William Proctor, another local military father, talked about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

``When my son was there I hardly slept good,'' Proctor, 75, said during a break in his Wednesday afternoon billiards game at the legion.

Proctor's son, who is stationed in Edmonton, was among the soldiers who came home this summer after being relieved by the contingent that included Byers and Arnold.

``I was talking to (Arnold's) dad just two weeks ago. He asked me then if Scotty had come home... He said, `Well, my son just left a couple of weeks ago,''' said Proctor, who moved to Espanola in 1940 - his father was a military policeman who watched over German prisoners sent to northern Ontario during the war.

``Now (my son's) home, and these poor guys. It all just happened so fast and especially so close to home.''

Speaking from her home in McKerrow, Ont. soon after news of her son's death, Arnold's mother said her Arnold was "very much a soldier."

Arnold, Byers, Cpl. Shane Keating, 30, of Saskatoon, and Cpl. Keith Morley, 30, of Winnipeg, were killed when a man on a bicycle detonated a bomb near Canadian troops on foot patrol in the Panjwaii district.

Byers, Keating and Morley were from the second battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Man.

Arnold was a married father of four stationed with 2 Field Ambulance out of CFB Petawawa.

At the southern end of Espanola, two women who work at Home Hardware had the store flags lowered to half-mast as soon as they heard the news.

``I think we're pretty much in shock,'' said Kim Ogston, whose husband works with Byers' uncle at the paper mill. Ogston said she was especially surprised to learn two of the four soldiers were from the Espanola area.

``It's something you always hear about, but you never think it's going to be somebody so close to home,'' she said.