Armed with fond memories and the embrace of loved ones, family members of one of the latest Canadian soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan fought back sorrow Saturday to reaffirm their belief in the mission.
But shortly after upwards of 1,000 mourners crammed into a Peterborough, Ont., military drill hall on Saturday to pay tribute to Cpl. Mark McLaren, news emerged that three more Canadian soldiers had been killed in Kandahar province by an improvised explosive device.
Following traditional military honours and an Christian Ecumenical memorial service, McLaren's brother said his death should serve as inspiration.
"I hope some Canadian boys — especially the ones overseas — they do him proud," said Miles McLaren outside the Peterborough Armoury.
"Because somebody has to make this world a better place, and [now] my brother's not here to do it."
While no one will ever replace "the best man I know," he said, someone's got to do the job his brother believed so important.
"This is Canada, and he did it for us, and he did it for the whole world."
McLaren, a member of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont., died Dec. 5 alongside two fellow soldiers when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
Pte. Demetrios Diplaros, 25, was buried Friday in Toronto, while the funeral for Warrant Officer Robert Wilson, 38, will take place Monday at CFB Petawawa.
Their deaths marked 100 Canadian soldiers killed since the Afghan mission began in 2002. One diplomat has also been killed.
'He did what he believed in'
As the funeral procession padded through icy cold and up a red carpet into the hall, sorrow became audible in the sound of snow crunching under the pall bearers feet.
It reached the crowd's ears through the bagpiper's skirl as he played Dvorak's Going Home.
And it rang out into the street as friends comforted the sobbing family before they boarded several buses that would follow the hearse to Ottawa's Beechwood National Military Cemetery.
"He did what he believed in," said step-mother Jo-Anne McLaren.
"When he decided to do something, he went ahead with it. And he believed he was helping over there [in Afghanistan]. I support that 100 per cent."
McLaren, who was engaged to be married, began his second tour of duty shortly before his 23rd birthday in September. He arrived with first-hand knowledge of the risks, having suffered "friendly fire" injuries to his neck and leg in 2006.
During his recent tour, he had been working as part of a special liaison team training the Afghan National Army. A few weeks ago, he was praised for crawling under fire toward an Afghan soldier who had been shot to administer first aid.
No matter where he was, he showed love, his step-mother said.
"His hugs were the best in the world," she said. "I mean, when you got a hug from Mark it was sincere, it was strong. It was a two-armed hug."
His family also remembered him as a precocious, inquisitive individual with an IQ "through the roof" who sported a "mohawk down to his shoulders" when he was younger.
"Mark was a character, and whoever Mark came in contact with remembered Mark," said his uncle Glen McLaren-Villeneuve.
"Now he's come back, and the only important thing was that he's a hero, and [he was] doing things that almost none of us would dare to do."