Sgt. Marc Leger (April 17, 2002)

CBC News -- LANCASTER, ONT - In a small town in eastern Ontario Wednesday, about 400 people crowded into a church for the funeral of Sgt. Marc Leger, while hundreds of others listened outside in specially set up tents.

A sea of red marked the back of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, where several RCMP officers paid tribute to Leger. Soldiers dressed in black were dispersed throughout the crowd. Family members stood with tears in their eyes as a choir sang in French and English.

"My dearest Marc, we were so young when we met, but as young as we were, our love was so strong from the very beginning," said Leger's wife Marly. "I am so very proud of the man you have become, and I am so very proud to be Mrs. Marc Leger."

Leger, 29, from Lancaster, Ont., was one of four Canadian paratroopers killed in Afghanistan.

But he had also gone on peacekeeping missions, where he was known for his great compassion for Bosnian refugees.

One of his missions was in the remote Livno Valley. Even though it was beyond his mandate, he scrounged for food and building supplies to help locals get back on their feet.

The people of Livno Valley saw him as their hero. Twice they elected him as their mayor. When he refused the position, they called him "King Marco."

Before he died, Leger established a trust fund to keep aid moving to the Livno Valley.

So many people came to pay tribute to Leger, that some believed the whole town of Lancaster was there to remember the fallen soldier.

OTTAWA, Apr. 22 - He arrived in Bosnia as a sergeant. He left it as a king. At least that’s what the Serbs of Livno Valley called Sgt. Marc Leger. Their “King Marco was a humble Canadian whose boundless empathy and dogged determination helped them start to rebuild their homes and lives in 2000.

The Livno Serbs’ world was shattered in the summer of 1995 by the U.S.-sponsored ethnic cleansing, carried out by the Croat army under the code name “Oluja” (“Storm” - see Item 6 of this TiM Bulletin).

Now Sgt. Leger is back home in his native Canada. He arrived this weekend - in a casket. He was one of the four Canadian soldiers whose lives were snuffed out Apr. 18 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by “friendly fire” (an oxymoron - i.e., by the not-so-smart American missiles). The President, of course, apologized to the government and the people of Canada.

Sgt. Leger may be gone, but the legend of “King Marco” lives on. And no longer only through memories of his young widow in Edmonton, or of the Serbs in Livno. “The King Is Dead. Long Live the King!” - is how his commanding officer, Major Shane Schreiber, finished a moving tribute to this 37-year old, written in Kandahar the day after his death.

The letter, carried by the Canadian Press newswire on Apr. 20, has now been published by news media right across our northern neighbor’s vast land. Now the whole country knows what a great son Canada has had in Sgt. Leger. As Major Schreiber summed it up in his letter:

“What I find incredible is that Sgt. Leger was not all that different from every other trooper in my company. What I find even more surprising is how an institution as publicly maligned and neglected as the Canadian army can continue to consistently attract and retain guys like Marc Leger.

As historian Jack Granatstein has said of another Canadian army at another time, it is probably a better organization than the people of Canada know or deserve. Marc Leger, and his fellow soldiers are, as the Prime Minister has already said, "the best face of Canada."

He was a goddamned hero, and we should all take our lead from his spirit and his actions.”