Fa­ther of slain sol­dier ‘grate­ful that my son is home’

Young fa­ther killed in Afghanistan is buried near the neigh­bour­hood where he grew up

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS - AN­DREW DUFFY

Cpl. Rob­bie Beeren­fenger’s fa­ther, Daniel Roy, vis­ited his son’s grave in the Na­tional Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery this week on an over­cast day that turned to rain. It’s a pil­grim­age he has made faith­fully in the 15 years since Beeren­fenger died in Afghanistan.

On the af­ter­noon of Oct. 2, 2003, a stack of buried mines ex­ploded be­neath Beeren­fenger’s pa­trol ve­hi­cle out­side Kabul.

“He was a good man. He was my only son,” said Roy, 65, a re­tired Para Transpo driver in Ot­tawa.

Un­like the vast ma­jor­ity of Canada’s war dead, Beeren­fenger is buried on Cana­dian soil.

Dur­ing Canada’s first cen­tury as a na­tion, the coun­try’s war dead were buried near the bat­tle­fields where they fell, in ceme­ter­ies planned and tended by the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion. More than 100,000 Cana­di­ans died in the First and Sec­ond World Wars and the vast ma­jor­ity of them are buried in Eu­rope.

Some 378 of the more than 500 Cana­di­ans killed in the Korean War are buried in a United Na­tions ceme­tery in Bu­san, South Korea.

Even Cana­dian ser­vice­men and women who died in ac­ci­dents dur­ing the Cold War are buried in over­seas ceme­ter­ies.

For thou­sands of Cana­dian fam­i­lies in the 20th Cen­tury, this was one more ter­ri­ble sac­ri­fice de­manded by war: the per­ma­nent, phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion from a loved one’s grave.

It was only dur­ing the early 1970s that Canada’s fallen be­gan to be brought home for burial.

Dur­ing the con­flict in Afghanistan, each re­turned sol­dier was hon­oured with a ramp cer­e­mony at CFB Tren­ton and a solemn pro­ces­sion along On­tario’s “High­way of Heroes.”

Cpl. Beeren­fenger’s re­mains were in­terred at Beech­wood, a short walk from the Ed­in­burgh neigh­bour­hood where he grew up. “I’m grate­ful that my son is home, and that he’s here with his com­rades,” his fa­ther said.

Beeren­fenger — he was given his Dutch-born mother’s maiden name — was an in­de­pen­dent child who loved skate­boards, snow­boards, dirt bikes and ad­ven­ture. Af­ter high school, he worked at sev­eral car washes be­fore re­solv­ing to make some­thing of his life: He joined the mil­i­tary in March 1997 at the age of 23.

One year later, his life changed still more when he met and fell in love with the woman who would be­come his wife, Tina Beeren­fenger, a young mother of two from Hamil­ton.

They mar­ried in May 2000. Beeren­fenger loved be­ing a fa­ther to Tina’s two young chil­dren, Mathew and Kristo­pher, and in July 2001 Tina be­came preg­nant with their own child.

A daugh­ter, Madi­son, was born in March 2002 amid ru­mours that el­e­ments of the Royal Cana­dian Reg­i­ment (RCR) would be sent to Afghanistan, which had be­come the fo­cus of U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the af­ter­math of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“He was a real fam­ily man: He loved ev­ery­thing about be­ing a dad,” Roy said. “He was al­ways with his kids af­ter work, bik­ing, roller-skat­ing, play­ing.”

Beeren­fenger boarded a trans­port plane for Afghanistan in Au­gust 2003. It was his sec­ond over­seas de­ploy­ment: In 1999, he had served in Kosovo with an RCR in­fantry bat­tle group.

In Afghanistan, he was serv­ing with the 3rd Bat­tal­ion of the RCR as part of Op­er­a­tion Athena, Canada’s mil­i­tary com­mit­ment to the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force (ISAF) mis­sion based in Kabul.

Roy said his son vol­un­teered to go out on pa­trol on the day he died. “He wasn’t even sup­posed to be out that day: He was in a tower as a sen­try, but he al­ways wanted to be a paratrooper and he asked to go on pa­trol with them.”

Trained as a mech­a­nized in­fantry­man, Beeren­fenger had worked to de­velop his light in­fantry skills so he could be de­ployed with para­troop­ers. His fel­low sol­diers called him “Bear.”

At 1:25 p.m. on Oct. 2, Beeren­fenger and two other sol­diers drove into the dusty, rolling foothills of the Jowz Val­ley. They were rid­ing in an Iltis Jeep over a dry creekbed, about 20 me­tres ahead of a sec­ond Jeep car­ry­ing three more sol­diers, when their front right wheel struck as many as three land­mines.

The blast ripped apart the open­topped ve­hi­cle.

Beeren­fenger, 29, and Sgt. Robert Short, 42, an ex­plo­sives ex­pert and fa­ther of two from Fredericton, were killed in­stantly. The driver, Cpl. Thomas Stir­ling, 23, was badly wounded.

Roy said he was driv­ing a Para Transpo ve­hi­cle on the day he found out his son had been killed. When the dis­patcher pulled him off the road, he thought his ag­ing fa­ther might be in­volved, but when he re­turned home to Kanata, his wife, Marg, told him the ter­ri­ble truth.

“I just fell to the floor. I was in so much shock,” he said.

Beeren­fenger’s mother, Wil­helmina Beeren­fenger-Koehler, was the 2007 Na­tional Memo­rial (Sil­ver) Cross Mother. Dur­ing the na­tional Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­mony, she laid a wreath at the base of the Na­tional War Memo­rial on be­half of all moth­ers who have lost chil­dren in mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Beeren­fenger and Short were the first Cana­dian sol­diers killed by the en­emy in Afghanistan. (Four Cana­di­ans had been killed in a friendly fire in­ci­dent in April 2002.)

Short is buried in a church ceme­tery in New Mary­land, N.B., near his home­town of Fredericton.

JEAN LEVAC

Daniel Roy is the fa­ther of Cpl. Rob­bie Beeren­fenger, 29, of Ot­tawa, who was killed in an IED blast in Afghanistan in Oc­to­ber 2003.

Cpl. Rob­bie Beeren­fenger

Sgt. Robert Short

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