Shane Anthony Gordon Schofield was born on June 19, 1980, in Halifax, the first of two sons born to Catherine and Charlton, an officer with the Halifax Regional Police. Famous for his wit and wide smile, the big, strong, stay-at-home defenceman grew up in suburban Sackville, with a hockey-filled childhood. Shane joined the military after graduating from Millwood High School, where he earned the loudest applause at convocation. He trained at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., where his day began at 5:30 a.m. Soon, he’d logged thousands of push-ups, learned to march, salute and fire weapons, and memorized the military’s esoteric finer points: protocol and rank.
Shane shipped to Bosnia on his first overseas mission, serving with the Second Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Man. Peacekeeping changed the young private, who came home mature and self-confident. Shortly after, he met Rene Boughton, a dark-haired Winnipegger he would later surprise with a proposal. “We were at my parents, trying to eat, and he was just sweating,” she says. Once home, to the little military-issue house they shared on base, Rene popped upstairs to put on her PJs. Shane, a burly six foot two with big, cherry-red lips, waited for her on one knee at the bottom of the stairs. His best man—and best friend—was a fellow Princess Pat, Paul Davis: another Sackville son who’d signed up at 18 and wed a Winnipegger. With funny, easygoing East Coast personalities, they were a “riot” together, says Paul’s dad, Jim. Soon, each had two kids: Paul girls, Shane boys. In the hospital, Shane cradled Teegan, his firstborn, so gingerly that he was gently chided by the attending nurse: “He’s not an egg,” she said. “You can hold him tighter than that.”
Shane shed 46 lb. in his first tour in Afghanistan in 2002. Grim field rations weren’t all to blame. Dressed in heavy khaki and leather combat boots, he sweated buckets slogging up and down mountains, shuttling 45-kg packs filled with water and plastic explosives. The heat, meanwhile, was an appetite-killer. Back home, Rene’s heart would “jump” with “every knock at the door”—the unrelenting anxiety that only a military spouse can know. Home alone with two baby boys was tough. Saying goodbye at the Winnipeg airport was impossible. They’d update funeral arrangements before he flew out.
On March 2, 2006, Paul was killed in a freak road accident in Kandahar. Roughly five kilometres from base, his LAV III collided with a taxi. Shane, who shipped out with the next tour, was at Shilo when he learned. “They line them all up, to tell them,” says Rene. “Shane just walked away,” protocol be damned. Paul, then 28, had decided to become an air force mechanic: it would have kept him from the front. Just before he was killed, his transfer order had arrived.
At least once, Shane cheated death. During his third tour, his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. His radio went dead. Down the road, Sgt. Daniel Holley trained his binoculars on the wreckage, waiting for the smoke to clear, sure Shane was gone. He watched as Shane, badly concussed but very much alive, climbed onto the roof of the shelled LAV III and did a “goofy little dance” under the white-hot sun.
On Aug. 19, 2006, driving down from Ma’sum Ghar, one of two massive, craggy mountains that dominate volatile Panjwai, part of the Taliban heartland, Shane’s platoon was ambushed. Mortars landed all around, one striking the lead vehicle. Taliban fighters came at them in waves. Fighting from lightly armed vehicles, 40 Patricias faced off against up to 500 Taliban. The lopsided, 12-hour battle—fought mostly in the dark—left 72 Taliban dead, but no Canadian casualties.
In September, Shane, who’d made sergeant at just 27, returned from his fourth tour to the tidy, 1,100-sq.-foot house with a bonfire pit and a huge yard he’d bought in Wawanesa, a 15-minute drive from base. He’d seen more fighting, death and danger than in any other mission. Layne, born shortly before he’d shipped out, was then five months old: smiling, hugging and playful. “Family is more important,” he told Rene: he’d decided to try for a transfer from infantry duties, to keep him home. At first, it didn’t look good. But this spring, out of the blue, an air force mechanic’s position came up. Shane called it his “gift from Paul.”
On April 29, Shane headed to base to sign the order, with a huge smile stretching from ear to ear, says Rene. “Family meant everything to him: he was so happy.” Roughly five kilometres from base, Shane’s SUV collided with a potato planter. He was buried in Lower Sackville, with Paul. Shane was 28.