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Poppy Campaign: 20 Aug 2007
Soldier's death colours Dieppe tribute
The emotional trip back in time yesterday for elderly veterans of the disastrous Dieppe raid was heightened with the news that another Canadian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.
A tribute to the 913 Canadians who died in the Aug. 19, 1942, battle in the northern French port of Dieppe was just underway when the army's chaplain, Maj. Michel Dion, announced in his prayer of remembrance that a 23-year-old Quebec-based soldier had been killed west of Kandahar city.
Pte. Simon Longtin, 23, of Longueuil, on Montreal's south shore, was Canada's 67th combat death and the first of the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment -- the Van Doos -- to die in the war-torn country.
The ranks of veterans who took part in the bloody eight-hour beachfront battle in Dieppe have grown thin and, with fewer around to remember, the sting of Canada's worst military defeat has begun to dull.
But a veteran of Afghanistan who accompanied the old soldiers on this emotional pilgrimage said the recent casualties have reawakened Canadians to their history and introduced a whole new generation to the pain of war.
"My children know what it's like,'' said Maj. Steve Gallager, a former battery commander with the 1st Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Man.
Gallager, 42, who is now an artillery instructor at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., said his family was close to Capt. Nichola Goddard, the country's first female soldier killed in combat, who died on May 17, 2006.
"They (his children) knew Nichola, Capt. Goddard, very well,'' Gallager said, adding that he's thought of Goddard at just about every ceremony of remembrance during the Dieppe pilgrimage.
"They used to walk with their dogs all the time.''
In his visit to Dieppe's stony beach, the 23-year career soldier was stunned by the distance of open ground that Canadian soldiers had been ordered to cross under withering German machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire 65 years ago.
"They just did it and that's the way our guys are today,'' he said.
Drawing the link between the military sacrifices of past wars is something the Conservative government has done increasingly as the public has grown more uneasy about rising casualties in Afghanistan.
"It is a different world, but there is no question there is a link between what our soldiers fought for here and what they are fighting for in Afghanistan,'' Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson said after the day's second multi-nation tribute at the Canadian memorial overlooking the beachfront esplanade.
"The values we cherish as Canadians, those values have not changed in 65 years,'' Thompson said.
"The mission is a different mission. It is defined differently. It's a different world than what we were living in 65 years ago. Still, at the end of the day, we are accepting our international responsibilities.''
It was the kind of sentiment that sat well with John Edmondson, a veteran of the Dieppe raid and former member of the South Saskatchewan Regiment.
Edmondson said he felt sorry for Longtin's family but soldiers are soldiers and are expected to lay down their lives.
Edmondson, one of those who made it out of Dieppe and went on to fight in the Normandy campaign, said the world is a dangerous place.
"If the (terrorists) weren't there, they'd be here and I'm waiting for the day something happens in Canada,'' he said.
"If we don't annihilate them they'll get to us.''
The Canadian public has had many warnings about the danger posed by terrorism and "if they're not awake (now), they're stupid,'' Edmondson said.
Dignitaries and veterans from Canada, France and Britain took part in remembrance ceremonies throughout the weekend on the beach and at a cemetery where 707 Canadians are buried.
Nearly 5,000 Canadians and 1,000 British troops took part in the ill-fated raid, along with nearly 50 U.S. Rangers. In addition to the more than 900 Canadians killed, 600 were wounded and another 1,975 surrendered and spent nearly three years in captivity.
The Canadian Press
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