Gone, but not forgotten - Macleans.ca

Gone, but not forgotten

A new documentary honours the Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan

Gone, but not forgotten

Ceremony for Justin Boyes in Kandahar | Sgt. Tim Jordan/Combat Camera

When Justin Boyes of Saskatoon announced to his mother Angela that he was going to join the Reserves, she did not approve. “This wasn’t in our plan of what we wanted for our kids,” she says. That was in January 2001, and after Sept. 11, Angela was begging her boy to quit. “Please, please, please,” she said to him. “Quit today. Go down there and quit today.”

But Justin was committed. As a teenager, he’d read about genocide and human rights violations in places like Rwanda and Afghanistan, and he wasn’t going to sit idle. So Angela resolved to support him. Still, she says, “I had a foreboding in my heart. I knew our lives were going to be affected by this.”

On Oct. 18, 2009, Justin arrived in Kandahar for his second tour of duty. The 26-year-old was leading a platoon focused on mentoring Afghan National Police officers. Ten days later, Angela’s phone rang. It was Justin’s younger brother, also a soldier, calling to say that Justin had been killed by an IED blast. “That can’t be,” she recalls saying to her son. “I had researched what would happen if the boys were hurt or killed—what the process would be—and I read that it would always involve someone coming to the door.” Within minutes, her doorbell rang.

Justin’s death was the 132nd since Canada’s Afghan mission began in 2002. To date, 152 Canadian soldiers have died. To commemorate their lives, Toronto-based filmmaker Andrew Gregg travelled the country for nine months, collecting memories from families who have lost their loved ones in the war. We Will Remember Them, his new documentary with 90th Parallel Productions, will air on CBC Nov. 11. All will be honoured, and 33 of their stories, including Boyes’s, will be told through interviews with the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, and children they’ve left behind.

Gregg is adamant that the film will not make a political statement about the war. Instead, he notes, “In our society, we have somehow figured out how to have war without having wartime. We are willing to send them off, then we don’t pay attention to them.”

During research for the film, he found that a number of things unite the families, besides their loss. One, says Gregg, is that almost all of them can’t quite believe their loved one died, and still in some way expect him or her to return from the mission. More profound, perhaps, was the openness he encountered every time he walked into the family home of a deceased soldier. He knew he was stepping into “an immense amount of grief, asking people to relive the worst moment of their lives,” but again and again, he found family and friends who wanted to share. “Everybody wants to talk about their son or daughter,” he says.

In the documentary, there is Tara Dawe, who shares what it felt like to fall in love with her husband, Matt, and then lose him to a blast in Afghanistan on the day their son Lucas turned two. There’s Jim Seggie in Winnipeg, who shows the wreath from his son Mike’s grave, which he now hangs on the wall. He just can’t throw it out, he explains.

There’s also James Boyes, the son of Justin, hugging a teddy bear that his dad had made and gave him before shipping out. When he squeezes it, a recording of Justin’s voice plays: “Hug your daddy bear, and remember that daddy loves you.” Justin’s wife, Alanna, says their son still turns his head whenever he sees a soldier to check if it’s his dad.

Angela Boyes and her husband, Brian, also make an appearance. They now live in Fort McMurray, Alta. Moving on has been difficult, but Angela has found some solace in line-dancing. “Sometimes I felt so guilty for dancing,” she said in a phone interview. “You just think, my son will never dance again, and he’s the one who should be.” Now, remembering her son is most important. When she saw Justin’s brother head off to Afghanistan, she asked him what he was most afraid of. His response: “Of being forgotten.” For her, Gregg’s documentary is a way to make sure Justin’s story never is.


Gone, but not forgotten

  1. My name is Caroline McIntosh and I live in Mississauga, Ontario. You will see a link to a petition that Pete Fisher (a photojournalist who works for Sun Media and who was part of team of people who started a petition to get the Highway of Heroes named) and I started on Friday, Nov 5th, 2010.. It is about the fact the Royal Mint has refused requests from Pete Fisher for producing a coin to commemorate the Highway of Heroes and all of the things that this entails. The following story was run in the Toronto Sun on Saturday Nov 6th. Here is the full article, with thanks to the Toronto Sun and Joe Warmington :

    Columnist / Joe Warmington
    Mint not too sweet on Hwy. of Heroes coin

    By JOE WARMINGTON, Toronto Sun

    Last Updated: November 6, 2010 4:29pm

    “So we are not going to have a special coin for the Highway of Heroes after all!

    Who got to the Royal Canadian Mint? And why?

    These are the kind of questions we are hoping Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others will ask in the wake of the Mint deciding it will not produce a coin commemorating the stretch of Hwy. 401 between Trenton and Toronto.

    It’s strange because for a while it was looking like they were going to do one.

    “I would like to thank you again for your e-mail proposing that the Royal Canadian Mint issue a coin featuring the Highway of Heroes,” Francie Baltzan, communications coordinator wrote Sun Media journalist Pete Fisher last February. “This suggestion is one that we like very much and, in fact, one that received very favourable response when tested with coin consumers. The Mint is therefore in the process of considering how best to honour this solemn route and those who have travelled it, as well as to underscore the spontaneous outpouring of public support for our fallen heroes.”

    But something mysteriously changed.

    “I want to let you know that it is not likely that we will be doing a specific Highway of Heroes coin,” Baltzan wrote back this week. “The sentiment behind this theme is an honourable one, but designing a coin that accurately depicts the Highway of Heroes while honouring the sentiment has proven to be difficult. I am sorry to pass on this disappointing news, but please know that we are working on several other products, for 2011 and beyond, that honour the Canadian Forces — past and present — and their sacrifices.”

    Needless to say Pete, who has attended most repatriations and was instrumental in urging the province to create the Highway of Heroes in honour of our fallen troops, was ticked off.

    “A simple image of people on a bridge with Canadian flags would have been more than enough to show support for the highway,” he wrote back. “Unfortunately I can’t help but wonder if there was some political involvement in the decision.”

    You can find Pete’s incredibly moving pictures from dozens of repatriations along the Highway of Heroes on http://www.nesphotos.ca. Bring some Kleenex.

    I have a call into the Mint but they ought to know that Fisher won’t be letting this go. Ask former governor general Michaelle Jean how relentless Fisher was about getting a bravery medal for slain Cobourg copper Chris Garrett. He’s like a dog with a bone.

    Good luck in getting him to heel.

    And if the decision was made not to go ahead with the coin because of some lefty peace freaks not wanting to honour our fallen, watch for the reaction of Canadians in the next few months. You’ll learn something about patriotism.

    “I find it absolutely incredible when the Royal Canadian Mint produces coins including ones for whales, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they wouldn’t be able to produce a coin honouring the grass roots of something started by thousands of ordinary Canadians for our fallen heroes,” Fisher said.

    You can do something about it. Mississauga resident Caroline McIntosh has put together an online petition — http://www.petitiononline.com/hhyoh123/petition.html” — to try to get them to change their minds.

    I am not worried. There is always some lefty stiff in the way of doing what is right.”

    I thought I would post this article on this website in hopes that the momentum will be supported by various members of this website. As I write this at 5:45 am,November 11 we are at 715 signatures! When the petition for the renaming of the Highway was finally delivered, that petition had on it 68,000+ signatures!! We hope to blow that number out of the water, so we need as much help as possible getting the word out regarding this new petition…

    thanks so much
    Take care

    Caroline McIntosh
    Mississauga, Ontario

  2. what a lot of garbage