Shedding tears and holding each other for comfort, family members watched as the bodies of three Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan arrived at an Ontario military base Monday afternoon.
The families were joined by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean and chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk at CFB Trenton as the plane carrying the remains of Cpl. Mark McLaren, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros and Warrant Officer Robert Wilson touched down.
The caskets were loaded, one at a time, into three hearses at a runway, while their comrades stood at silent attention. Family members, clutching roses, followed the flag-draped caskets.
People gathered outside the chain-link fence that encircle the base, hands in pockets as temperatures hovered around –10 C, to pay their respects.
The soldiers' remains were then driven west to Toronto along a stretch of Ontario's Highway 401 that is known as the Highway of Heroes. Hundreds of people lined up along overpasses above the highway to watch the motorcade pass by.
Many onlookers hoisted Canadian flags, saluted or threw rose petals as the motorcade passed.
Among those present were Glen McVeen and his father, Wayne McVeen, who has been to the highway to salute 90 of the 100 Canadian soldiers who have died.
"I've lost a few friends over there," said the younger McVeen, who has served in Bosnia for the Canadian military. "And I'd say one of the reasons I like to come out here is to show the families that they're not alone in their grief."
Killed by roadside bomb
On Saturday, more than 2,000 Canadian, U.S., Dutch and British soldiers turned out for a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield to pay tribute to their three comrades, who were killed west of Kandahar city on Friday.
They died when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb — pushing the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 100 since the mission began in earnest in 2002.
In addition to the soldier deaths, one Canadian diplomat, Glyn Berry, was killed by a suicide blast in January 2006.
The three deceased soldiers were all members of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont.
Wilson, 38, of Keswick, Ont., was on his second tour in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and two small children.
McLaren, 23, of Peterborough, Ont., was also on his second tour in Afghanistan and was engaged to be married.
Diplaros, 24, of Toronto, on his first tour, joined the Canadian Forces three years ago, following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Greek military.
Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in the province of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold.