LAV III becomes symbol of remembrance
Members of the Third Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry help unveil a decommissioned LAV III - the Lacombe Afghanistan Memorial - during a dedication on Saturday afternoon. The dedication took place at the Fairview Cemetery in Lacombe, Alta. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)
Once a machine of war, a Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) III now stands in the midst of Lacombe’s Fairview Cemetery to honour those who served and were lost in Afghanistan.
Unveiled as part of a dedication ceremony in the Field of Honour on Saturday afternoon, the hope is the Lacombe Afghanistan Memorial can now be seen in the same light as veterans see it - a symbol of hope, security and remembrance.
For Ret. Cpt. Bryce Talsma, a Lacombe native who served in Afghanistan from Sept. 2009 until April 2010 as part of the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), the LAV III proved to be a powerful monument that he thought it would be.
“It has more impact on me in person that I thought. Before, it was an out-there idea as a way of forcing people to acknowledge the sacrifice and the efforts that we put forward in Afghanistan,” he said.
“Actually having a monument, something concrete, something tangible...if I was in a weaker moment, I’d probably allow myself to have a few tears. It’s impressive and I love it.”
Serving in Afghanistan, he said, was one of the most profound, informative moments of his life. To this day he’s proud of what he and his comrades - some of the greatest Canadians he’s met, he says - achieved.
Now the monument will ensure enduring remembrance of what they accomplished.
“It’s providing a lot of context for our history, for our stories,” he said. “We put our best effort toward securing a peaceful future for Afghanistan, or at least to give the people a chance to pursue peace. More than anything, we’ve proven to ourselves that we have the strength of will to stand up against oppression.
“I think that’s worth remembering.”
At the forefront of the dedication of the unit was Lacombe’s personal connection to the War in Afghanistan: the death of Master Cpl Byron Greff.
Greff, who grew up in Lacombe, was the final Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan and the only one to be killed following the completion of Canada’s mission there.
“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,” said Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins, who spearheaded the project which began over 18 mos. ago.
“The words we say here 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.”
Shedding a few tears in the front row of the crowd was Greff’s wife, Lindsay, along with their now five-year-old daughter, Brielle.
City of Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie also choked back a bit of emotion for a member of one of the first families he’d met upon arriving in the city.
“Usually it’s Byron’s mom and dad that set me off. I thought I’d be fine, but seeing Lindsay and Brielle here is really a true honour,” Christie said.
“When you do something like this, a family’s feelings, family’s wishes, family’s thoughts are at the forefront and it’s a very sensitive issue sometimes. To know they support it and to know they are good with it just put the icing on the cake. It means so much they are here and approve of it.”
He said it didn’t take long for him to support the Afghanistan Memorial Project, and reiterated doing so was the right thing to do.
“To be part of this was huge and to remember the 162 that were lost and to remember the 40,000 that served is huge, but number one in my heart...it stands here for Master Cpl. Byron Greff.”
A total of 250 demilitarized LAV IIIs were available for the purpose of an Afghanistan Memorial Project. The City of Lacombe was pre-approved for one early on, with Airdrie and Fredericton also receiving units. Another memorial will also be placed in Morinville, Alta. where Master Cpl. Greff lived with his family.
As for the monument in Lacombe, it will stand forevermore as both a symbol of remembrance and a safe haven for those buried in the Field of Honour.
Talsma, who will have the opportunity to be placed their when his time comes, said he hasn’t given much thought as to where he will place himself, but the Field of Honour, near the LAV III wouldn’t be a bad place to end up.
“If it happens, I’d be honoured to be here.”