Letter from Pte. Blake Williamson's Father

On the evening of Saturday Oct. 14, 2006, I received the news that no dad wishes for. My oldest son and first born had been killed in Afghanistan doing his job alongside his sergeant while on patrol guarding a road that has been problematic to protect. A road that will link a major highway to better offer services and necessary supplies to the nearby residents of Panjwaii district.

As Brig.-Gen. David Fraser said earlier, the Taliban do not like roads because roads mean progress and aid to the residents.

It was my sonís wishes to serve his country as many of his grandparents, uncles and family friends had many years earlier.

But the rest of the story is, what happens when the news and the full support of the Canadian military comes into play?

(It includes) condolences for our loss to transportation, support, aid, providing a chaplain and dedicated military warrant officer for each family upon arrival at (CFB) Trenton for the repatriation ceremony.

Blakeís grandmother and I were greeted at the entrance to the passenger terminal and never left alone or unattended. After being escorted into a family hospitality reception lounge, coffee, teas, sandwiches, dessert and flowers were provided.

Chaplain Morrison, who had served in Afghanistan, was there to explain the ceremony and offer spiritual support. Master warrant officer Ron Clement was present to offer whatever support, explanations and directions to the family.

From my perspective, having watched television of this ceremony prior to this loss, I believed that although the governor-general and senior-ranking military officers may be in attendance, it was to deliver speeches. That does not occur.

Instead, the ceremony is reserved solely to pay respect for the loss to the families and military. There are no speeches and photo ops on the tarmac, just the honour guard, piper and pallbearers, some of whom would have known my son.

The governor-general, cabinet politicians and those very senior officers (in) attendance come into each of those hospitality suites on a one-to-one basis. They enter in perhaps twos, introduce themselves, and offer their condolences, admitting they never know what to say in these cases, except that they appreciate what the family has given up in the service of Canada and its commitment to Afghanistan.

It was sheer amazement to myself and my mother that such personal attention and sincere focus was being given directly to the families in this private setting by such senior Canadian figures.

Once the aircraft has arrived and the repatriation service is ready to commence the families are escorted to the tarmac on the receiving line. The caskets containing the sons are lowered one by one to the pallbearers after a military honour guard salute, and to the tune of the piper.

The pallbearers, many made up of friends and perhaps those who served with the son lost, slowly escort each casket on shoulders across the quiet tarmac to the awaiting vehicles. The family then separately approaches the casket to lay flowers and pay their private respects.

The family returns to the receiving line. The next casket is lowered and when all family have completed their visit they depart to awaiting limos to be escorted off the field while the . . . senior officers and the governor-general stand in respect and (are) the last to leave the field. Again, in respect to those lost.

It is difficult to lose a 23-year-old son but the respect, precision, patience, understanding and complete focus on the families suffering this loss is overwhelming.

On behalf of families who have experienced this repatriation service I wish to say thank you to all those who organize such a sorrowful event for their professionalism, respect and sharing of loss they provide to the families in this time of grief.

Neil Williamson.