Pte. Mark Anthony Graham (September 4, 2006)

HAMILTON (CP) - A former Olympian killed when a U.S. pilot accidentally strafed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan was remembered Wednesday as "larger than life" while another soldier slain engaging Taliban insurgents was called a "leader" despite his rank of private.

The soldiers, who were among five men killed in Afghanistan on Labour Day weekend, were laid to rest in separate funerals in their respective Ontario hometowns.

In Hamilton, more than 1,000 mourners - many in full dress uniform - filed into the West Highland Baptist Church under grey skies to commemorate the life of Pte. Mark Graham.

"Seeing the turnout of the people who he affected in his short time here, he's inspired me again" said Vaughn Daley, who added Graham always motivated him in high school when they competed in athletics.

The 33-year-old's flag-draped coffin was carried from a large black hearse into the church by white-gloved military pallbearers.

Graham, who competed for Canada on the 4x400-metre relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, died on Labour Day. The friendly-fire incident came one day after four soldiers, including Pte. William Cushley, were killed during a fierce battle with Taliban insurgents.

All five were stationed at CFB Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa.

In Port Lambton, Ont., the sun burst through the clouds as soldiers greeted the casket containing the remains of Cushley outside Sacred Heart Church. Some 500 people were on hand to bid farewell to the first Lambton County resident to be killed in action since the Korean War.

"He was a deeply spiritual man," said Brig.-Gen. Guy Thibault, Commander Land Force Central Area. "The rank wasn't testimony to his leadership."

Thibault said soldiers who knew Cushley were no doubt thinking of him, but added he believes morale remains strong among Canadian troops.

"It steels the soldiers in their resolve for what they have to do," Thibault said.

In his homily, Capt. Rev. Greg Bailey told mourners that while Graham's friendly-fire death might test their faith, they must put their trust in God.

A visibly shaken member of Parliament fought back tears in paying tribute to Graham.

"This man was very well loved and respected," said Hamilton East-Stoney Creek member Wayne Marsden.

"The love we saw in that room was amazing... This community knew him well, loved him well."

Other dignitaries included Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni, and provincial politicians Judy Marsales and David Christopherson.

Cushley was remembered by Capt. Rev. Daniel Roushorne as a man "who got back off the bus to give mom a hug and kiss, and it didn't matter that everybody was watching."

In his eEulogy, Tyler Atkins paid tribute to his fun-loving buddy and added that Cushley "made a difference for our country."

Cushley's three sisters took turns reading stanzas from a heart-wrenching poem, including lines that read: "You were our brother and our friend. We wish we could have been with you at the end."

The graveside service saw three volleys of fire from soldiers, a bagpiper, then a trumpeter sound the Last Post.

Cushley's parents, Errol and Elaine, were presented with a Canadian flag.