Tuesday, June 30, 2009



When young Bobbie showed up at “CIMENT HILL” on that warm sunny afternoon, last July 08, I knew I had entered a new era. Standing there by his proud grandfather, he didn’t look like that kid I had seen grow up through out the years. Tall and proud, he had lost all that baby fat and was definitely a changed person. Discreetly inspecting him from head to toes, I couldn’t but feel totally amazed as to how the “Combat School” system continued to produce such quality soldiers. Here in front of me, stood this muscle bound infantryman who had the needed confidence to take on the world. For this young man, it had been a life long ambition to continue the family tradition and as soon as he turned seventeen (17) years old and with his parents consent, he had joined the Canadian Forces. He was more than well-pleased with this accomplishment as he was the third generation of the “Buteau” family to serve with the famous French Canadian “Royal 22ieme Regiment”.

While I was giving him the grand tour of the monument, he was talking a mile a minute, filling my ear with his “Valcartier” war stories. I had heard many versions of these escapades throughout the years so couldn’t really get excited about them anymore. However, when he announced to me that he was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in April 09, now that got my attention. Looking at Robert, the oldest “Buteau”, stare at the hill, I knew what he was most likely thinking about. Just like me, he was probably hoping that he would not have to pour a cement bag for his grandson in a near future.

For those just joining us and who don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about, here is a brief history of the project. A few years back, when the Canadian Government decided that they would no longer lower the flag on Parliament Hill for a fallen soldier, this did not sit well with me. Just like too many proud Canadians, I could not understand the logic behind this decision, thus took it upon myself to do something about it. Let’s face it, somewhere in this great country of ours, someone needed to continue this tradition. The men and women dying for this nation, needed to be recognized elsewhere than on a military base even if it was somewhere nowhere in Northern New-Brunswick. I went to the local welding shop and had a flag pole fabricated. When it came time to erect it, I had estimated that twenty-five (25) bags would be needed to secure this thing in the ground. At the time, on the day I went to the hardware store to buy the concrete, two more soldiers were killed, bringing the total amount of casualties to twenty-seven (27). This gave me the idea that I would pour a bag of cement at the base of the pole on every occasion they would announce another additional fatality. As of today, 120 bags have been poured in their honor and sadly, it keeps on growing.

So when young Pte Buteau made a smart comment about my flag’s condition, I soon came to its defense, explaining that because of restricted budgets, it was still good enough to serve as an Ambassador at Baisley Lodges. I agreed with him that it was in sad shape but there were reasons as to why it was faded and tattered. What was not said at that moment was the fact that it was older than him and had been at my side since 1983.

You see, this particular Canadian Flag had been given to me by my father-in-law when I left for Germany in Jun 83. Standing there on the tarmac at CFB Winnipeg, he had managed to by-pass the AMU security and was waiting for Fran and I to board the plane. “Gino,” he yelled over the sounds of the equipment servicing the Boeing 707, “take this with you. If you ever get homesick, open the envelope.” I had put the brown package in my briefcase and had forgotten about it for almost a year when one day I remembered what he had said about being homesick. It had been a rough start for me at CFB Lahr. My sponsor had screwed me royally and after buying all her junky furniture, I had to throw it all out because it was infested with bacteria and bed bugs. As if this was not enough, my mother was suffering from breast cancer and my father had just passed away.

Sitting there in the investigation section in Kubach, I was swamped with paperwork and didn’t know where to put my head. Feeling a bit overwhelmed if not discouraged, I was looking for something else when I came across that same brown envelope. I had forgotten about it for all this time but thought that this would be a good occasion to see what “Old Joe” McIntyre had given me. I ripped it open and withdrew the brand new flag. On a piece of paper that accompanied it, was written, “Good Luck in Germany and remember. You’re Canadian.” Other than his signature, I didn’t recognize any of the other names but realized that a bunch of WWII veterans from the #4 Branch of the Canadian Legion had taken the time to wish me luck. I know it was all in my mind but when I put the red and white cloth to my nose, it smelt like Canada. At the same moment, I heard the noise of the door to the building open. It was the 01 Jul 84 and a statutory holiday so I was curious to see who would also be coming in on his day off. Standing there in the doorway, this person was nobody that I recognized but from his straight like commanding posture and the “Armories” on his uniform sleeve, I knew that I’d have to call him “Sir”.

“Good Afternoon,” he said extending his friendly hand, “my name is CWO Robert Buteau. I was told that I’d find Gino Roussel here.” “That would be me” I replied not too sure what he wanted. “Your father was a long time friend of mine and I just wanted to tell you that I had talked to him just before he died and that he was really proud of you.” I was kind of surprised to hear this as my “old man” was not one to let his feelings known to me. However, just hearing these caring words brighten my day and was the added incentive that I needed to carry on and enjoy my tour in Germany. This was to be my first meeting with the Buteau family.

When I met the second generation of Buteau, it was a few years later, while in Bosnia. I was lying in bed, staring at the same flag hanging on my bedroom wall, wondering what I was doing in this hell hole. It had been a rough few months and we weren’t out of the woods yet. The fact that I was supposed to send one of the young corporals on leave was not that much of a big deal in the scheme of things but to him it was important. I had been trying to get answers to my questions but was not getting anywhere. This was to be one of these small things that when compiled with all the other daily frustrations made it that I was going to blow my top. I got out of bed, yanked the “Maple Leaf” off the wall and for some deranged reason; I was going to take it out on it. I was pulling on trying to rip it apart when it brushed against my face. Here was that smell again. Call it strange if you want but it had this distinctive smell that one can only associate with Canada. The particular perfume had a calming effect on me and I started to think straight. “Grab your gear, Steph!” I told that young corporal. “You’re going on vacation.” “Yeah, but how are we supposed to get through? The Serbs are blocking the roads to Gracac and the Croats are shooting at anything that moves.” “Don’t worry about that. Just meet me at the jeep.” I went down to the Guardhouse, told the boys about my crazy plan and asked for volunteers for a second vehicle escort. They didn’t even hesitate at the proposition as all of them wanted to come. Just like me, they were tired of being intimidated by these people and wanted to pass the message that “We were Canadians” and we were tired of their “bullshit”. We secured that flag on the whip antenna of the front jeep under the “UN” one and took off. Armed to the teeth, we drove off in two jeeps and the trip to destination was uneventful. When we did get to that Serbian road block, I don’t know if they thought it was a VIP in the vehicle or simply because they saw the Canadian Flag flapping in the wind but they signaled us to pass without even having the audacity of challenging us. Not only did we get through but young Cpl Dumais received a complimentary salute from the guard manning the post. When we got to CANBAT and got within the compound, we got stares like you wouldn’t believe. Everybody was wondering who these “cowboys” were but except for one Lieutenant, nobody said anything. As for that “snot nose”, well when he tried to put his grain of salt, he soon found out that I wasn’t in the mood for any further crap and retreated. I went to the Welfare Office where I met MCpl Louis Buteau. A very nice guy just like his father, he was most cooperative. He decided to pull a few favors and my young guy was out of town and on his way home the very next morning.

So when Bobby showed up at “CIMENT HILL” last summer, I knew he would be the right man for the job. For reasons that only a true soldier can understand, it was important for me to establish that true connection that would link the Memorial to Afghanistan. I had attempted re-enlisting but this door had been slammed shut in my face. So if I was to be denied the honor of serving in theater, at least my flag would get to visit Asia. In December 2008, when the 100th casualty fell, I knew it had served me well so before it was totally destroyed by the wind, it was lowered for a last time and properly folded. The now so-called “rag” had made quite the statement wherever it had traveled but before retirement it would go on another mission.

In Mar 09, accompanied by his grandfather Robert, Pte Buteau returned to visit and say goodbye before deployment. Talking to this young but now mature young eighteen (18) year old, it was learned that his unit had undergone extensive training with the Americans and from what he described, he was well prepared. A sour note was when he related that in Quebec City, home to the “VanDoos”, the soldiers weren’t supported that much by the general population. It was so bad that they weren’t allowed to walk downtown with their uniforms on as it brought them constant trouble. Apparently they were regularly harassed and this to the point where some civvies were arrogant enough to spit on them. You could tell that this really bothered him as he just couldn’t comprehend as to why soldiers fighting for their country, would be treated like that. Seeing that the young man needed some encouragement, I thought that this would be the perfect occasion to set my plan in motion. I got up and retrieved my “flag” from inside the coffee table. I handed it to him with the strict instructions that it was only a loan and that it had be returned to me after his tour. I now explained the history behind it and that if he was homesick, he was to feel and even smell it as it might just put certain realities in perspective. If at one point, morale was low in his platoon, he was to pin it up somewhere and tell his friends that whatever was said or done back home, there was this crazy old fool way out there in nowhere New-Brunswick that had built a memorial and that not only was he supporting them he was wholeheartedly proud of their effort. It turned out to be quite the touching moment and all three sitting in the “Bunkhouse” couldn’t hold back the tears, especially when he said, “Pas de problème, Adjudant. Je vais faire ça pour vous.” On that note, we all stepped out for some fresh air and he was gone…

Three weeks ago, when Pte Alexandre Péloquin was killed, it really struck a chord with his friends, in Bobby Buteau’s section. The reality of war had brutally punched them in the face. Although details are sketchy, it is known that the “Canadian Flag” again worked its magic and that the whole of Kandahar now knows of its existence. I know that keeper of the flag is looking after it quite well as according to his grandfather, Bobby built a cedar case for it and it is traveling under the protection of a “Royal 22ieme Regiment” escort in the form of a brass beaver cap badge on the lid.

You’d think that the story stops there but it doesn’t. Last week, this gray Toyota sporting another Canadian flag, pulled in my yard. Out of it came out this patriotic eighty-six (86) year old man, looking for a certain Mr Roussel. He didn’t have to introduce himself as Mr Lehman, a WW II veteran because his reputation was well known in the city of Edmundston. I certainly knew who he was as I would often see this local legend in his Legion uniform, chest full of medals visiting sick Legionnaires at the hospital or carrying the flag at their funerals. Very formal and polite, he explained that he had heard of “CIMENT HILL” and wanted to pay his respects to the fallen troops. To have the site visited by such a man was a real honor for me but when he later congratulated me for erecting it, I wasn’t expecting what he was about to say. “You know Mr Roussel, when we fought in WW II, we visited hell but we knew who the enemy was. For those poor bastards out there, it’s a different ball game. They don’t know who to shoot at and they’re living in hell. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the true veterans.” To have the draconian effort of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan recognized by such a reputable individual meant way much more to me than anything our politicians might blur out. Like we would say, he’s been there, done it and has the experience to back his statement. To be acknowledged as true “Combat Veterans” from such a reputable source is probably the best compliment the “Boyz” in the big sand box will ever receive. Hopefully, somebody reading this text will have the means to transmit this message to them.

From what I was listening to on the news, we are at a stage of the conflict where our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, need to hear that the Canadian population is still behind them 100 %. For me, well I’ll do something different tomorrow for Canada Day. I’ll raise the flag as a true patriot but upside down. Some might consider this a scandalous gesture and some might even think I’m off my rockers. Either way, it will be done. I strongly believe that it’s about time that somebody stands up to our politicians and send them a distress call. I do support our troops but strongly believe that it’s time for someone else to step up and carry the load of the “Panjway District”. Can you imagine just for a second that Prime Minister Harper would wake up one beautiful Canada Day morning, look out the window and see all these upside down flags. He would literally flip. Now can you imagine if the message was sent Canada wide? Our elected members of Parliament might just consider it twice before extending our troop commitment, beyond 2011. Trust me, it's coming.

Peace on Earth to One and All. And remember together we can make a difference.


P.S. Oh by the way, Happy Canada Day, Folks!

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