My view of the procession of fallen Canadian soldier, Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Blake, May 5th, 2010.
Although, there was nothing petty or 2nd class about him or his reason for return.
The Taliban fighter that planted the remote-detonated explosive device, took out what he believed to be the "enemy," and in doing so, also took out a community volunteer, husband, and father of two children.
Last April, I was assigned to cover a report on the Highway of Heroes. I stood on one of the most renowned overpasses on Hwy 401 and busily gathered interviews and footage of the unique display of support and patriotism. Almost too busy, because before I knew it, the police escorted procession carrying the 117th fallen soldier, had raced quickly under us and onto the remainder of that solemn stretch of road. I didn't have time to properly process what I had just witnessed. My feeble attempts at capturing the moment for both television and our blog can be found here, http://www.youtube.com/rikkicheri#p/f/2/5N4oZVLLJMg and here, http://rikkiratliff.blogspot.com/2009/04/o-canada-they-stand-on-guard-for-you.html.
Today, a year and 26 fallen soldiers after my report, I sat annoyed in the passenger seat because of traffic on North America's busiest stretch of highway. We had a full day in the field and I just wanted to be home. Like yesterday. Police on motorcycle blocked off one section of the highway, for what reason, I didn't know. Just chalked it up to yet another detour on our path home. As I looked up at the overpass ahead, I saw an ambulance flashing and Red, White and Maple Leaf blowing in the wind. My heart sank and I gasped out loud. I knew exactly what was happening. The Navy man that I had heard passed earlier this week, was making his final return home. The path had been cleared for him. His heroes song sung. At over 50 overpasses, by hundreds of Canadians, for nearly 100 miles. The only detour he would have is at the morgue in downtown Toronto.
I flew across the driver's seat and out the window to snap the above photo. The last time I saw such a sacred repatriation, it was my job to cover it and I missed my opportunity to give a citizen (or proud permanent resident) salute. I rode the rest of the ride home with perspective and thanks that I was doing it alive and in freedom. Largely because of a willing soldier's sacrifice.
I said it before and I'll say it again. This American has never seen Canada look so lovely.