Espanola Legion dedicates veterans' banners

The dedication of the veterans’ banners took place on a cold, windy October 2 morning. President and Chaplain of Royal Canadian Legion Br. #39, Gary MacPherson conducted the dedication. Shown are Ray Constantineau, Ron Arbour, Dan Kryzanowski, Gary MacPherson and Don Arbour.

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On Wednesday, Oct. 2, a small crowd of Legionnaires and family members gathered beneath the banner for John Lamothe, a veteran who served in Afghanistan in 1996.

The ceremony at 10 a.m. was short, with Legion chaplain and president Gary MacPherson saying, “We are gathered here to dedicate these banners, a project that has been two years in the making.”

This was followed by a special prayer honouring those veterans who served, both men and women, past and present. Those assembled were invited to warm up at Tim Hortons and share their stories.

There were 60 banners purchased by veterans’ families, but only 27 could be installed on the light posts this year. The banners will stay up until after Remembrance Day. The remaining banners will be put in place next year. It is expected they will be in rotation for four or five years before being returned to the families of those being honoured.

The names on the banners are: Pte. David Robert James Byers, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Afghanistan; Corporal Glen Arnold, 2 Field Ambulance, Afghanistan; PFC Bruce Thomas Kennedy, Marine Corps, Vietnam 1968; Eugene R. Arthurs, RCOC, Royal Canadian Engineers WWII; Frank Savicky; Private Clair Patterson, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, Armoured Division WWII; Private John (Jack) Whittle, NNS Highlanders WWII; Alcide Oliver Berry; Ernest Arbour, Army WWII; Dempsey Taricani, Canadian Army WWII; John Sokoloski; Maurice Gerrard; Thelma “Tommie” Dagg (Lankin); James “Jim” Dagg; Lawrence (Sweede) Delaney; Corporal Wesley Taylor, 52 Battalion 1916 – 1919; George (Jiggs) Bourcier, Royal Navy, Dieppe; John Lamothe, Afghanistan 1996; William J. Laundrie, Governor General Foot Guard, Dispatch Driver WWII; Clara Laplante; Orio Talevi; Private Archie Nesseth, Canadian Army; Noel Bergeron; Corporal Omer Gervais; Flying Officer Charles Lloyd Gallagher, Royal Canadian Airforce WWII; and Paul Lemay.

Don Arbour, Sergeant at Arms for the Espanola Legion says there are only a handful of veterans left from the Second World War, with a minimum age of 93. The oldest veteran in this area is Chuck Lafolley who is 98. Other local veterans include Don Currie, Orio Talevi, Dempsey Taricani as well as Thelma Dagg. Arbour credits another veteran, his father Ernie Arbour, for bringing him and his brother Ron into the Legion, some 40 years ago.

The first banner hung was the Legion banner which read, “Lest We Forget. In Recognition of Our Service Men and Women, Past and Present.”

The next one was for 22-year-old Pte. David Byers, from Espanola, and directly after that the one honouring 32-year-old Corporal Glen Arnold from McKerrow. Both men died on Sept. 18, 2006 in a suicide bicycle bomb attack while giving out candy and gifts to children in Panjwaii district, in Afghanistan.

There are 158 Canadian soldiers who perished in Afghanistan, as well as two civilian contractors, one diplomat and a journalist. Canadians were involved in the war from late 2001 to 2014, taking a larger role starting in 2006 when 2,500 Canadian Forces personnel were deployed to Kandahar province.

Jane and John Byers, the parents of David Byers, were present at the banner dedication ceremony. Byers, an outspoken Silver Cross Mother, says she hasn’t been all that happy with the federal government, which has been promising a special memorial for those killed in Afghanistan. The memorial that came over from Kandahar military base, and was rededicated this August, isn’t the permanent one that was promised.

The first dedication of the Kandahar Airfield memorial, which was brought back to Canada and reassembled in Ottawa, took place in May of 2019 with only military personnel and government dignitaries present. The families of the fallen soldiers were not invited. Byers said, “That was an insult!” General Vance, Canadian Armed Forces Chief of Defence, apologized to the families on behalf of the defence department but Byers says she doesn’t hold him responsible for the oversight.

“They (Veteran’s Affairs) don’t tell the families anything. There is very poor communication. We’ve had four Veteran’s Affairs ministers who don’t know their a** from a hole in the ground. There is no consideration for the families.”

In August of this year that memorial was rededicated in Ottawa with the families present. It consists of black granite plaques with the faces and the names of those who died engraved upon them. It is housed at National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa and public access is restricted. Byers mentioned, at her request the plaques for her son and Arnold were placed side by side, instead of in the former alphabetical order.

“They died together. The plaques should be together.”

Byers said she has been fighting for a national memorial for those soldiers, open to the public, to commemorate the names and faces of those who died in Afghanistan. She appealed to the Ministry of Defense, but got no response. Now that it’s an election year there is finally movement on an Afghanistan memorial. She says it was Premier Doug Ford who promised her that a permanent, public memorial honouring Canada’s dead from the Afghanistan war would be built. It is not expected to be constructed until mid-2020 at the earliest but a site has been chosen. It will be situated at Lebreton Flats across from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

While there will always be a hole in her heart for her fallen son, Byers says the fact that she has a granddaughter that reminds her so much of him, does make it a little easier. When David was killed, his fiancee was expecting his child. Byers says her granddaughter Layla will be 13 in March 2020 and looks just like her father. Layla was at the rededication ceremony, leaving behind a tiny toy soldier, to adorn her father’s memorial plaque.

Banner photos by Patricia Drohan