Marty Kuehn has been a regular visitor to Prince George on Remembrance Day ever since he lost his good friend, Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick, while they were serving in the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan.
Fitzpatrick was on a foot patrol near Kandahar City March 6, 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, which left him severely injured. He was flown to a military hospital in Germany and transferred to Edmonton, where he died of his injuries on March 20 of that year.
That was 10 years ago and the memories for Kuehn of what was lost when Fitzpatrick died remain vivid. They were the same age and shared the same motivations doing their duties as soldiers.
"He was a fun guy, he liked fitness and football and he was a big snowboarder and he loved the aspect of the military," said Kuehn. "He was very patriotic. Just like all of us back then, we just wanted to do our part."
During a 10-year combat mission in Afghanistan from April 2002-December 2011 which involved 40,000 Canadians soldiers, 158 were killed and more than 2,000 were injured. Countless more suffered the mental and emotional toll of seeing the horrors of war, which for many remains a constant battle.
At Monday's Civic Centre ceremony in front of a standing-room-only audience of more than 1,600, Shirley Bond, the MLA for Prince George Mount-Robson, spoke of the sadness she felt watching as the Fitzpatrick family gathered on the tarmac at Prince George Airport to receive Darren's flag-draped coffin. Just 21 at the time, he was the first Prince George born-and-bred soldier to be killed in war since the Second World War.
"That was really tough," said Kuehn, who was also there when Darren came home for the last time.
Kuehn, now 31, got to know Fitzpatrick at the Princess Patricia base in Edmonton during those first two years before they were sent to Afghanistan as part of a security force in Kandahar province.
"When you go over there you go in with a different mindset and now, when I think about the things we did over there, I kind of wonder, 'how did I do that, how did I go through those situations'," said Kuehn, who still serves with the PPCLI in Edmonton. "It's a mindset you kind of put yourself into prior to stepping off. Once you get in that mindset, once you're there it just makes it a lot easier.
"Then you come home and you have to transition back to the way of life back home and that can definitely be hard for some people. I think everyone comes back (with post-traumatic stress disorder) and they kind of experience different ways of dealing with what they did over there, but I think I did OK."
Seeing a full house for the indoor ceremony and the huge crowd that followed the parade to Veterans Plaza was heartwarming for Kuehn. He's attended the ceremonies in the city five times since his friend died and always looks forward to the welcome he receives from the Fitzpatrick family and the people he meets.
"The amount of people from the Prince George community who come out for Remembrance Day ceremonies is really nice to see," he said. "It's one of the better ceremonies I've been to personally."
Retired RCMP North District Inspector Eric Brewer was in the crowd watching the ceremonies at the cenotaph while standing alongside current soldiers from the Rocky Mountain Rangers, and first responders from the RCMP, Prince George Fire Rescue, B.C. Ambulance Service, among other emergency and military volunteers. Those first responders share with our armed forces the responsibility of protecting the community and their prominence on Remembrance Day serves as a reminder of their willingness to put their own lives at risk as they go about their jobs.
"It's the guys on the front lines that face danger on a daily basis though their entire careers, as do the military when they do what they do in some of these war-torn countries - the dangers are there for all the first responders," said Brewer.
"We have (RCMP) members who have gone to these places, to Afghanistan, and come back changed people, as do a lot of these military people, and have suffered the consequences of PTSD and all the things they've been involved in. It means a lot to the members and that's why they are here."