Grief, gratitude expressed in Kandahar Cenotaph rededication

Article / August 20, 2019 / Project number: 19-0232

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — There was sadness and grief in the air as military leaders and government officials joined with the loved ones of Canada’s Afghanistan Fallen to rededicate a memorial to their sacrifices, but also a clear message from the people of Afghanistan: it was not in vain.

The Kandahar Cenotaph was designed and built by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. It was returned to Canada in 2011 and is now permanently housed within the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at National Defence Headquarters (Carling) (NDHQ (Carling)) in Ottawa.

The skies over NDHQ (Carling) were appropriately overcast as events got underway at 11 a.m. on August 17, 2019. The Governor General, Her Excellency Julie Payette; the Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, and Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance all offered their thanks to hundreds of family members, friends and other invitees.

Richard Mills Jr., Deputy Chief of Mission with the United States Embassy in Ottawa also offered his country’s gratitude for Canada’s partnership in the conflict, as did Fahim Ebrat, First Secretary of the Embassy of Afghanistan, which is also in Ottawa.

“To the families of the fallen heroes, on behalf of my nation, I say that there are no words that can adequately express how deeply we appreciate and will forever remember the sacrifices of your brave men and women,” said Mr. Ebrat. “It has not been in vain.”

He spoke of Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, where Canada’s forces were concentrated. While it was a highly volatile place during Canada’s mission, Mr. Ebrat described today’s Kandahar as “vibrant” thanks to the sacrifices of Canada’s Fallen.

“Their names are etched here in this cenotaph so that we will never forget what Canadians and the fallen heroes have selflessly given us. Let me say loud and clear that their legacy is also indelibly etched in the living hearts of my people and is now forever part of our history. We see the sacrifices of your loved ones each time a girl is educated. Each time an Afghan citizen casts a vote. Each time a woman is elected to lead and in each stride Afghanistan takes toward securing its future.”

“My parting message on behalf of the Afghan people and government,” Mr. Ebrat concluded, “is to tell the families of those who have fallen, those who are wounded and those who served in Afghanistan that we will never forget your sacrifices.”

Mr. Mills noted that Canada was there for its southern neighbour even in the immediate hours after the 9/11 attack that triggered the mission, offering sanctuary to travellers impacted.

“As everything seemed to be falling apart, we in the United States looked around and we saw our Canadian friends,” he said. “You were there in Gander and towns across Canada to welcome planeloads of Americans and international travellers when U.S. airspace had been closed. You are at our side in the hallways of NORAD in the Northern Command as our joint operation centres responded to this unthinkable event.”

“Today I am very honoured on behalf of all Americans to join you in remembering the 158 Canadians who lay down their lives to ensure the safety and security of our great nations,” Mr. Mills added. “The United States honours their sacrifices and we will never forget.”

Gen Vance said he would often visit the Cenotaph to reflect during his two tours in Afghanistan, and that he finds it to be as much an object of hope as of grief.

“The cenotaph contains the grief but also carries the hopes and fears, the courage and vitality of those who died in the mission they were trying to accomplish and it feels very much alive.”

In Kandahar, the Cenotaph was always in view of the missions’ leaders to remind them of the heavy responsibility of command and Gen Vance said it will serve an equally profound purpose in its new home in Ottawa.

“It is contained within a place of permanent honour in a familiar spot beside the headquarters offering all who wish to visit the chance to remember not only the terrible cost of war but also the joy of military comradeship. The chance to see and maybe even hear the voices of those who gave everything and yet somehow keep giving.”

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