‘We will remember them’
Ceremoniously and with great dignity, and with hundreds of people gathered, the new LAV III monument next to the Royal Canadian Legion in Lancaster was unveiled Sunday.
The LAV III infantry vehicle, the light-armoured troop carrier used by the Canadian Armed Forces during their engagements in Afghanistan, is among 22 such monuments so far unveiled as part of the program to create 250 war memorials across Canada.
The vehicle is dedicated to the 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces who served and the 162 Canadians who lost their lives during the conflict in Afghanistan. Nearby on the site, a stone monument bears a plaque honouring Lancaster native Sgt. Marc Léger who was among three Canadian soldiers killed April 18, 2002 by friendly fire when an American fighter jet dropped a laser-guided 225-kilogram bomb on the soldiers during a training exercise near Kandahar.
Sgt. Léger’s parents, Richard and Claire, with family members at their side, unveiled the plaque which reads: This Place of Remembrance is dedicated to a Native Son of Lancaster, SGT Marc D. Léger, 3rd Battalion PPCLI, killed in Afghanistan - April 2002. “We Will Remember Them.”
“My greatest fear was that he would be forgotten,’’ said Claire Léger, her voice breaking with emotion as she expressed the Léger family’s gratitude. In the audience were members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the unit in which her son served.
Mrs. Léger described the family’s deep Lancaster roots stemming back to the 1940s when Marc’s great-grandparents and grandparents settled there, and how she and her husband also chose Lancaster to raise their family.
She quoted the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” thanking “the outstanding members of the Lancaster Legion,” South Glengarry and other contributors for permanently memorializing her son with “this impressive monument and plaque.”
“It must have been destiny that Marc grew up on Queen Street where we could see this site from our house, and likewise these are the fields where he would play baseball, broomball and hockey, building strong limbs for the soldier he would become,” said Mrs. Léger.
The ceremony’s Service of Remembrance and call to worship with Reverend Lois Gaudet and two minutes of silence were followed by an exciting surprise. In the distance, people heard the drone of an aircraft and suddenly overhead appeared an RCAF Hercules C30J, the four-en- gine turboprop military transport Canada deployed to Afghanistan. The pilot thrilled the audience by performing four flybys from various directions including a steep bank directly overhead.
Starting the program
When the LAV III program was first announced, Pierre Roy, president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Lancaster Branch No. 544, seized on the project. But first, he met with Claire and Richard Léger at the proposed site to ask for permission to dedicate the site and monument to their son. With their blessing, Mr. Roy began planning the project to transform the lot into the pristine and gracious park-like monument.
It was an ambitious endeavour, almost baffling in its many challenges, but Mr. Roy, a retired team leader for infrastructure with Defence Construction Canada, who was project manager for the Lancaster Legion’s addition project in 2017, knew where to start.
The house lot adjacent to the Legion was purchased by the Township of South Glengarry. Then the abandoned house on the site was demolished and the engineering and site preparation steps began.
Mr. Roy explained that to qualify for a LAV III Monument, a community had to meet an approval criteria. The community “had to have ties to Afghanistan, the Canadian Armed Forces and sacrifice.”
“In my opinion I believe we gave the Community Selection Committee an easy job of it,” he said. “Our community’s contribution to this war included 28 Glens who served with regular force combat units earning two commendation medals and one Military Valour Medal. Many more Glengarrians served in other regular military units from across our country. Sadly 162 Canadians including a native son, Marc Léger, from this village were killed in Afghanistan.”
The ceremony included a wreath laying in honour of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel who served and in Remembrance of the 162 who were killed in Afghanistan.
Laying wreaths representing their own Armed Forces branches were Hon Col Bob Chekan, Lt. Col. Christopher Horner and CWO Mary MacDonald of the RCAF, Lt. (N) David Barkley of the RCN, and Lt. Col. Christopher French and Master Cpl. Jenna Lafave of the Army’s SD&G Highlanders.
Cpl. Jenna Lafave is the daughter of Brent Lafave, the former commanding officer of the SD&G Highlanders, and completed one mission in Afghanistan. Cpl. Lafave represented the women of the Canadian Armed Forces who served in completed missions in Afghanistan.
Mr. Roy thanked the RCL Branch 544 Executive, council and township staff, including infrastructure manager Ewen MacDonald, United Counties Council, and the many individuals, groups and businesses who enthusiastically supported the project, raising over $20,000 for the project.
“We should take no pleasure from the creation of monuments to war,” said Mr. Roy. “But we take pride and have great respect for the service and sacrifice that the men and women from our little corner of Canada have contributed faithfully and with honour when called upon for over two centuries.”
REMEMBRANCE: Bottom left: Cpl. Jenna Lafave of the SD&G Highlanders and Lieutenant Colonel Christopher French, Commanding Officer of the SD&G Highlanders, approach the LAV III monument to lay a wreath. Right: Pierre Roy, President of the Royal Canadian Legion, Lancaster Branch No. 544, addresses attendees at the unveiling of the LAV III monument.