2019-11-06

Father of fallen Bridgewater soldier reflects on ceremony inaugurating Kandahar Cenotaph

by Keith Corcoran

Seeing the image of his son's face - and story - for the first time memorialized at National Defence headquarters was almost an out-of-body experience for Jim Davis.

"I can feel his spirit," Davis told LighthouseNOW of Cpl. Paul James Davis, the Bridgewater serviceman killed 13 years ago during the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan.

It was a "touching and powerful" moment, he said.

Davis, wife Sharon, daughter Laura, along with another son, Craig, and Paul's daughters Julia and Malia, made the trip to Ottawa this summer for the inauguration of the Kandahar Cenotaph. The monument is located within the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at National Defence headquarters.

The re-dedication ceremony in August was attended by hundreds, including families of soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice. Nearly 160 Canadian Armed Forces personnel died during the conflict, including Paul, a married father of two, who lost his life at the age of 28.

He was serving with the second battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based at Manitoba's CFB Shilo, and deployed in January 2006 for a six-month tour. Paul and a second soldier died after the light armoured vehicle they were in collided with an Afghan taxi.

There had been a private ceremony in May attended by government and military dignitaries to open the memorial hall where the cenotaph is situated. That was met with controversy because families, like the Davis', were left out of the picture and no one knew about the event until days after the fact.

Davis, 71, also of Bridgewater, wasn't phased, except to say he would have preferred a chance to live-stream the ceremony but he was surprised to see an invitation in the mail about a month later to attend a re-dedication. Ottawa picked up the travel, accommodation and meal tab.

As with other guests, a member of the military accompanied the families. Sgt. Grant Thoman picked up the Davis family from the airport and drove them to their hotel. "He volunteered to be our escort because he knew Paul," Davis said. "He was in Paul's regiment."

Davis felt the re-dedication was good for the soldiers in addition to the families.

The ceremony itself was about an hour long. There was a fly-past, a wreath-laying, prayers, a moment of silence and, to Davis' astonishment, speeches devoid of political messaging.

"Every speaker, you could see the emotion, the empathy, the compassion in their voice. It was real," he said.

Davis still volunteers with the National Defence social support program Helping Our Peers by Providing Empathy (HOPE), which aids families who've lost a loved one who was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

When it came time to return to the airport after a couple of days in Ottawa, Davis thanked Thoman with a sincerity that brought tears to the soldier's eyes. His being there was like Paul being there, he said. "It's like Paul saying, 'Hi dad,' I think I said that to him," Davis said.

The Kandahar Cenotaph at the Afghanistan Memorial Hall in Ottawa is a great, secure location where the public can access it, Davis said, noting he originally wasn't so sure.

"It changed my opinion. I now understand why it's at that base. It's a perfect spot for it."

Jim and Sharon Davis will again lay a wreath November 11 at the Bridgewater cenotaph in remembrance of Paul. A monument honouring Paul's memory also exists on the grounds outside the town school where he attended when he was a youngster.

Jim appreciates the ongoing effort to recognize the country's active military and its veterans.

"It just shows you he [Paul] did not die in vain."

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