As we drove down our major highway towards our well-needed vacation, we were distracted by people standing on the highway overpass waving a Canadian flag.
At first we were really not sure why they would be there, but within minutes heard on a radio report that the three soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan were being returned home today.
They had arrived at the Trenton air base and would be making their way to Toronto. As we were driving eastbound they would be passing us heading west. It was now six o’clock and we figured that they must be coming down the highway any time since the bridges as we were driving east were all occupied by onlookers.
We had noticed our first bridge as we approached the Oshawa area approximately seventy miles away from the air base and a good hour-plus drive. It was incredible to see every bridge as we were passing had people standing, waiting, and waving their flags proudly. Not one overpass was left empty.
You could hear the vehicles beeping their horns when they approached the bridges in support of those above. I felt the hair on my arms, as it was standing tall. It was quiet in our vehicle as we drove towards it, anticipating and wondering if the next bridge would be the point where we would finally meet up with the westbound procession.
The awkward anticipation was growing with each bridge we passed. I could not help but remark how sad it was that these bridge dwellers would have to be there to start off with, and how much more remarkable it was that they were and the crowds were getting bigger.
As we continued driving eastbound it was now over an hour and yet each bridge had not failed us. More and more gathered as it slowly started to get dark. Fire trucks and EMS vehicles sat on top of some of the bridges. You just knew that they were also there showing their comrades support. The vehicles sat quietly with lights flashing as they also sat waiting for the fall heroes to return.
It almost felt surreal as we approached the Trenton area. The military base that was located there was chosen as the site to bring back our fallen heroes. The families were transported to the air force base to meet their beloved family members as they were returned home. They were given a somber hero’s welcome. The families were given the opportunity to share in a hero’s welcome that they all deserved.
Once the ceremony was completed, they were then given a swift journey to Toronto and then finally home with their families for a quiet family service.
As we approached the area we noticed that there were a couple vehicles pulled over on the shoulder of the road; we also decided that we would pull over and join those who had taken the time to stop.
Within ten minutes the line up on both sides of the highway’s shoulders was now over a couple of miles long. People stood outside of their cars quietly, silently waiting for someone that they didn’t even know to pass them by.
Each stood proudly having the opportunity to at least say thank you. Kids stood beside their parents, not really truly understanding what was taking place but still respectful knowing that something powerful was about to happen.
It was almost an hour and half since we had seen that first bridge and the Canadian flag. To think that all of those bridges had people standing patiently waiting and anticipating the forty-five seconds that they would pay their respects was even more amazing.
While standing on the side of the road we noticed the police cruisers were beginning to shut down the westbound side of the highway. Police cruisers and officers made sure that they brought the oncoming highway traffic to a complete stop.
They were going to allow the procession the opportunity to not only travel together but to travel down the highway alone, giving them the respect that the fallen heroes deserved.
The freeway entrance that we had stopped at was the on ramp from the Trenton air force base. It was an incredible sight to witness the fire trucks and emergency vehicles lining down the on ramp with all of their lights on and the officers standing in honor. As the police cruisers raced to the next exits to make sure that they were closed, the caskets of our fallen heroes were each followed by their family’s limos.
There is, however, one thing that I know I will never ever forget in my life. As we stood there to honor our country’s heroes, the family members that were following behind their loved ones had opened their windows and each family had members waving as they followed behind their loved ones’ vehicles, saying “Thank you” to those who stopped to honor their sons.
I could not help but cry for them, for their loss, and how difficult it must be. But I was also able to see their strength and dedication to their children, to witness how proud they were of their sons and how thankful they were that we all stood strong with them. I know I will never forget what they sacrificed.
Please remember Pte. Chad Horn, Cpl. Andrew Grenon, and Cpl. Mike Seggie, who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and all of those before and unfortunately after them. Whose families have had to make the journey down the highway of heroes, not for the vacation that they all well deserved, but for the hero that they once called “my son.”
The journey that I made on the highway of heroes has changed me. Although I have driven the highway many times I had never really thought of those that sacrificed their lives for us. I wish it never had to be experienced but it allowed me to feel how proud we should be of our troops.
I believe each and every person should take a moment and reflect how our lives would be different if it were not for our armed forces. I hope that we would all stand at the side of the road and feel the emotion and pain that is real not only to their families.
To know that they each and every day they sacrifice for us and put their own lives at risk seems insignificant only stopping by the side of the highway. I can only hope that I did them justice by documenting my time spent on the highway.
Please, God bless these men and women that serve our country and fight these wars so our children will know the freedom that we have been given.
I have created a youtube video of the experience—I hope you take the time to watch an event that every Canadian should be proud of.