View Full Version : A Canadian tradition that brings out the best

03-14-2009, 10:27 AM
From the first glimpse of flashing police escorts to the last black vehicle flashing under the Highway 401 overpass, the funeral procession takes only half a silence-filled minute to pass.

Yet they start gathering an hour in advance for a unique tradition Canadians have embraced to salute their fallen soldiers — and there’s growing international pressure for other military powers to follow suit.

They were shivering in a brisk wind on Highway of Heroes overpasses again this week, the general public joining firefighters standing atop an aerial truck and flag-bearing war veterans as the body of Trooper Marc Diab, Canada’s 112th dead soldier, was whisked from Trenton air base to the coroner’s office in Toronto.

This picturesque town of 6,300 an hour’s drive east of Toronto was among the first whose firefighters took to the bridge to flash their lights as the procession flew by. The Legion branch joined in almost immediately and now upwards of 200 Brighton locals turn up for every fallen soldier’s repatriation convoy.

Truck horns blare from below at crowds waiting on a bridge curb given a special night-before clearing by the town. Many are regulars who have never missed a soldier’s final voyage, taking time off work in fair and foul weather to wave Maple Leaf flags.

And as the hearse goes by, flags snapping in the wind over Canada’s busiest highway is all you hear as locals crane their necks for glimpses of family members waving. As Trooper Diab’s convoy rushed below Thursday, a stretch limousine window was open, one sad face looking upward at the blurred spectacle of so many strangers waving back.

The concept of overpass sentinels is starting to spread. Large crowds are taking to Toronto overpasses and hundreds turned up last week on the far side of the metropolis as a soldier was transported home to the Niagara region.

The goose-bumping power of this salute is rooted in the spontaneous simplicity of its creation and growth.

The military has always had a multi-leveled protocol to prevent fallen soldiers from just fading away. There’s a private soldier visitation for close comrades outside the morgue in Kandahar, the larger military ramp ceremony sendoff at the airfield and the repatriation service at Trenton.

Only the overpass salute inserts general public participation into the lineup.

Brighton TD Canada Trust mortgages manager Greg Kobold comes from a long military heritage and has witnessed the soldier procession about 20 times.
He keeps hoping every one is his last.