As my wife and I were driving up to Ottawa along the ‘Highway of Heroes’ portion of the 401 on June 25/10 we noticed people standing on the overpasses with Canadian flags as we moved closer to Trenton. They were waiting to pay respects to Sgt. James MacNeil of the 2 Combat Engineer Regiment (Petawawa) who was killed June 21/10 by an IED while serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.
- National Defence & Canadian Forces, June 24/10: Our Fallen Comrade Returns Home (Sgt. James Patrick MacNeil)
We looked for an exit, but found none, so we pulled over at the next overpass (just before Wooler Road) and climbed up the hill to join the people waiting there.
As it turned out we had chosen the very first overpass that the funeral cortege would pass under – just outside Trenton. Had we waited to find an overpass with an exit ramp we would have missed the procession.
I spoke to several people who regularly came to the bridge with their flags which they tied to the railing with bungee cords. One couple, Ted and Ruth, had an enormous flag which had once flown on the Parliament Building in Ottawa. Ted told me that the flag is changed every day and Canadians can request one through their MP. Despite a 10 year waiting list, Ted received his flag on July 02/09 and brings it to the bridge to honour every Canadian soldier who travels in one of the sad processions on the Highway of Heroes back to his home and unit.
Upon inquiring as to what time the procession would arrive I was told we would get a 15 minute warning based on the arrival of the fire truck. Sure enough, 15 minutes after it arrived along with an ambulance and crew we watched in silence and sadness as the line of vehicles, one carrying Sgt. MacNeil, passed under us at 1515 hrs.
I served as a Vehicle Technician with 2 RCHA in Petawawa after completing basic training in 1974 so this was was an especially emotional event for me. Thank you to everyone who stood – and will stand again – at that overpass and every other overpass along the Highway of Heroes. Your efforts are very much appreciated.
My thanks also to you, Sergeant James Patrick MacNeil, and my condolences to your family.
Highway of Heroes: the slide presentation
- VoiceofCanada feature: Highway of Heroes
Mark Vandermaas, Editor