The Lacombe Afghanistan Memorial was officially unveiled and dedicated recently in a moving ceremony.
Officials, local politicians and members of the public gathered at Fairview Cemetery Veteran’s Field of Honour for the LAVIII memorial dedication on Saturday afternoon.
“This project has been underway for a little over 18 months now, and I’m delighted to welcome all of you to the City of Lacombe for the unveiling of the memorial here today,” said Mayor Steve Christie.
It was due to the efforts of the federal government, the province, the City of Lacombe along with the Royal Canadian Legion and many Lacombe citizens, that the realization of having the monument – a Canadian Light Armour Vehicle III (LAVIII) – in the local cemetery came to be. The memorial pays tribute to the 40,000 Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan and the 162 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in service to their country.
The last soldier who lost his life in Afghanistan was Lacombe resident Master Cpl. Byron Greff, who served in the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins said, “Every once in while, when evil rears its head around the world, and it has real consequences for the people in it – we have to send our men and women. And there are consequences for those families here at home. Make no mistake – members of parliament know this very well,” he said, before personally thanking members of the Greff family for being at the dedication ceremony.
“Byron grew up in Lacombe and he went to school here,” said Calkins. “He met (his wife) Lindsay in Edmonton after completing his basic training. Byron was a well-respected soldier with the Princess Patricia’s. He was also a devoted husband and father.
“The words we say here today will not bring back that father and husband or son to us. And this monument won’t bring back any of the 162 Canadians lost in Afghanistan. But it does stand as a reminder for a family, and their connection to a father and a husband and a son. Monuments like this one deliver a message to our veterans, and to their families, that their sacrifice, service and loss will not be forgotten. Our community came together to make sure there was a place for veterans, service members and their families to gather and to feel that connection of that service.
“My hope is that this monument leaves a lasting heartfelt impression for our troops and the families it’s dedicated to. I hope it leaves a lasting memory for our community that comes to view it.”
Ron Orr, MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka, said what an absolute privilege it is to have the memorial here in Lacombe.
“I especially want to thank our MP Blaine Calkins because this would not have happened without his leadership. It was his vision and his work that called together the committee in the first place to see this through. So thank you to Blaine and your committee for what you have done to make this a reality,” he said.
“And thanks to all of you who volunteered and donated and contributed in order to make this vision into a concrete reality that we have here standing today. Monuments as memorials are important to our collective and social memory. Significant signs like this are visual cues to remembrance, awareness and learning,” he said.
“They create wonder and a curiosity that connect us with the past, and with realities that are distant to us,” he said. “Such memorial monuments will invite questions and conversations and learning for many years to come amongst our people.”
Orr said that one of the things that is remembered in this monument is honouring 40,000 Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan.
“One hundred and sixty-two died which has been mentioned. And that the last soldier killed in Afghanistan was one of us – Master Corporal Byron Greff. We also learn by these kinds of memorials the hard truth expressed in a very old Latin phrase, ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. Everybody in our world wants peace, but peace requires vigilance, courage and determination.
“And while peace may feel passive – the road to peace never is. It must be actively sought and defended.”
Susan Churchill, president of the Royal Canadian Legion branch #79, said that freedom comes from those who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that we as a country have the rights and freedoms to make our own choices.
“The conflict in Afghanistan has been Canada’s longest conflict, and most significant engagement since our involvement in the Korean War,” she said. “The peace and comforts that we enjoy have come at a price of which 162 men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. This affects us here in Lacombe because Master Corporal Byron Greff – the last Canadian soldier killed in action – was from our very own City.
“This really drives home what our patriotic men and women do for us, and how we as a country need to stand up for those all over the globe to have the freedoms that we have here at home,” she said. “(This monument) also stands as the Legion’s promise that no veteran will ever be forgotten,” she added. “We should all thank every member of our armed forces who have served or are currently serving because we have the freedom of choice to do so.”
Lacombe native Bryce Talsma joined the Canadian forces in 2006 as a direct entry officer. In 2008, he completed training as an infantry officer and was signed to the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, said Calkins.
“In September of 2009 until April of 2010, he had the distinction and honour of commanding a mechanized infantry platoon in southern Afghanistan in the harshest environments he had every seen, with pride – working with the Canadian troops for a more free, and peaceful Afghanistan. Bryce played an important role in our fundraising efforts when he volunteered to come out and talk to our community about the LAVIII earlier this year.”
Talsma said having his own community supported the establishing of the monument in Lacombe was extremely meaningful.
“Today we are unveiling this Light Armoured vehicle – a symbol for some of violence and destruction – a symbol of war. For those who have served and fought in Afghanistan, and for me, it became a symbol of hope and of security. A symbol of Canada,” he said.
“Thank you so much – I can’t begin to express to you exactly what this means. Thank you.”