Interviews of Note
A Silver Cross Heart
They say that ideas can come from the strangest of pages. Mine came as I was cleaning off my desk.
To clarify, I was trying to make space for my laptop. At the same time, I was mulling over in my head possible ideas for the subject of a feature article. As I flipper through the contents of a box that was destined for the bottom of my closet, I came across a photograph that had been given to me almost five years before. A photograph of a soldier. The soldier in the photo was Sgt. Marc Leger.
And so our story begins.
Marc Daniel Leger was born in Cornwall in March 1973, the son of Clair and Richard Leger, and the oldest of what would eventually become a family of three children. Growing up, he was like any other kid, eventually becoming one of those teenagers whose friends have to come in to wake him up in the morning and end up causing a ruckus.
Don’t we all know one of those kids? Or weren’t we all that kid ourselves at one point?
After graduating from Glengarry High School in Alexandria, Marc’s military career began with a stint in the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve as a member of the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders. Two years later, in February of 1993, he joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry; after completing PPCLI Battle School, he joined the 1st Battalion of the Regiment as a rifleman. In 1996, he was posted to Third Battalion; while a member of this unit, he served three tours in the former Yugoslavia.
While in Yugoslavia, Marc showed a singular dedication to his work, often advocating on behalf of the villagers that he and his fellow servicemen were trying to help. In one village, Marc’s tireless efforts to help them rebuild their village and their lives earned him both commendations from his superiors and the singular admiration of the villagers. The level of admiration was so high, in fact, that the village attempted to make the then-Corporal their king. Marc’s response was to try to explain democracy and the democratic process to the villagers and their leaders; this backfired, in a sense, when the village used what Marc had taught them to organize themselves into a democratic government, then proceed to elect Marc as their king.
How often do you hear a story like that?
While not everyone may know the heart-warming story of Marc Leger’s exploits in Afghanistan, they are generally aware of what came afterwards. In January 2002, Marc Leger was promoted to Acting Sergeant. In February 2002, he deployed to Afghanistan with the Third Battalion PPCLI as part of Operation Apollo.
And, in April of 2002, he participated in a live-fire exercise at a place known as Tarnak Farms; at that point, in the minds of every stunned Canadian who opened a paper that morning, his name was one of four that became synonymous with sacrifice.
Leger's fellow casualties
I met Claire Leger by chance- I had decided, for no particular reason, that I would fulfill the requirements of an assignment by taking photographs at a Remembrance Day ceremony in the village of Richmond. As I stood there shivering amidst a record turnout of people, I found myself stilled when it was announced that Sgt. Marc Leger’s name would be added to the Board of the Names of the Fallen at Richmond Memorial Park- in the presence of his parents. I found myself unable to leave without approaching Mrs. Leger and telling her about what I knew of her son; I told her specifically that the story of how he became ‘King Marco’ to a group of Bosnian villagers since I had heard it years before. Mrs. Leger gave me a hug, thanking me for caring; when I asked if I could interview her for yet another assignment, she agreed without hesitation.
Then, as in now, Mrs. Leger’s willingness to speak about what happened to her son, as well as the events surrounding it, affect me profoundly. It was difficult to think about what to ask her this time around; how was I supposed to ask this woman her opinions on the events in Afghanistan since her son’s death, or even the world at large? I wasn’t going to fool myself; I specifically wanted the opinions of a Silver Cross Mother. I wanted to see how her personal tragedy had affected her view of happenings that many other Canadians seemed to be taking almost for granted.
Normally, I do not possess the balls to do something like this. Turns out, in the end, it didn’t matter.
- His father’s voice: new music will give voice to Richard Leger’s love for his so
Every year, on Nov. 11, the Silver Cross Mother lays a wreath on the war memorial on behalf of all the mothers (and families) who have lost sons in war. It is always a poignant moment.
I went in a reverse chronology- even with my newfound sense of boldness, there was no way I was going to push the bounds of propriety by starting in 2002.
If Mrs. Leger noticed how nervous I was, she didn’t say anything. I think.
I started by carefully voicing one of my own thoughts- namely, the thought that the media had portrayed the conflict in Afghanistan to the point where Canadians were getting cynical about it. Mrs. Leger responded that she could certainly understand that logic, and the impact of how politicized the view of the war we were getting had become. “They only feed us what they want to feed us” was one piece of insight she gave on the subject; she gave another when she voiced the question, “how much of what we really know is true?”
Mrs. Leger asked the rhetorical question of whether or not the government had really been taking the conflict all that seriously; specifically, she cited the incident in which Maxime Bernier left classified documents at the house of a girlfriend who, it turned out, had biker gang connections. We were being lied to constantly, she told me; images that the public thought were strategically bombed targets turned out to be empty warehouses. ‘We’re gonna say this and we’re gonna say that’ was a paraphrase given my Mrs. Leger to try and give context to the government’s attitude on publicizing the war.
On the subject of the death of Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the attack that started the Afghan conflict in which her son lost his life, Mrs. Leger is surprisingly placid. “It’s just one man,” she pointed out. “Okay, maybe he was the leader, but still… all this fuss over one person.” What struck her as particularly stupid was the fact that there was a reaction in the American markets at the news of Bin Laden’s death; this is something she doesn’t exactly get. What also gets Mrs. Leger is how the circumstances of bin Laden’s death were portrayed; the efforts of the American government to use bin Laden’s death as a publicity stunt seemed to strike her as being stupid and somewhat sad, a pathetic move to justify ten years of warfare.
One issue that really seems to get Mrs. Leger is the subject of the Afghan detainee scandal. Although she is not surprised by it, she says, she wonders exactly how actions such as these will accomplish the goal of teaching the Afghan people how to be a democratic society, which is what we set out to do. While she acknowledges that the standards of what constitutes torture can differ, and that being a soldier in wartime isn’t like being a member of the Boy Scouts, there is a fine line between information gathering and torture, and there is a limit to how far a practice can go before it becomes a wrongful act. Guidelines for such things would have to be very specific, she believes, and a lot would depend on the interrogator’s character; still, she believes that it is a better idea to take the time and find out what works before you go ahead and use a baseball bat.
Perhaps most hurtful, and perhaps most exemplary of some of the injustices surrounding the Afghan conflict, is that Marc Leger was killed not out in the field by enemy combatants, but by the actions of an American Air Force pilot who was flying overhead as Sgt. Leger and his men were participating in a live-fire training exercise on the ground. The stupidity of the circumstances clearly still has an impact on her. She highlights that, although the Americans thought that they were shooting at the enemy in response to being shot at themselves, technically speaking, they weren’t supposed to be doing anything. Equally as stupid, Mrs. Leger says, along with downright reckless, was the fact that, since the training ground being used by the Canadians was next to an airport, the cowboy antics of the American pilots ran the risk of bombing anyone else and causing an untold number of casualties. Mrs. Leger is glad that the pilot responsible for her son’s death was brought to justice; to her last breath, she says, she was not going to let them get away with it. She makes no secret of this fact; then, as in now, she does not want anyone else to have to suffer what she did.
Mrs. Leger finishes with a brief comment on a more positive issue related to the Afghan mission- the image of the soldiers being there to help with, among other things, getting little girls the opportunity to go to school. It’s all well and good, she says, and it’s certainly the right thing to do, but even though those are some of the more visible images of the war, is that whole issue really the whole point of the soldiers being there?
The fireplace of the Leger living room has been turned into a shrine dedicated to the memory of Claire’s son. On the wall above sits a painted portrait Sgt. Leger; on the mantle, his regimental cap badge sits in the middle of a row of photos. There is a flag at the fireplace, and a paper wreath; made by local school children the wreath is an assembly of cut-out hands and doves. Most poignantly of all, perhaps, is this- the wreath is flanked by wedding photos of Sgt. Leger and his wife, Marley.
The effect that this memorial had on me was profound, but that was not the end of it. I cannot describe how much of an honour it is that Mrs. Leger was able to share with me the personal impact Marc’s loss has had on her and her family. She is not afraid to admit the impact that not having him there has had on her family’s life; it is always difficult for her to think of events that he has missed, like the weddings of his siblings- his brother, Albert, and his sister, Sofie. Still difficult are the thoughts of the important parts of their lives that Marc will miss, like watching his nieces and nephews grow up. Still, says Mrs. Leger, what matters most is that, for them, Marc is still present in spirit. Indeed, he is present in all their lives- her grandchildren, Marc’s nieces and nephews, talk about what has happened, and they talk about their uncle often. They are thrilled when they hear stories about Marc, and on November 11th of this year, Sgt. Leger’s nephew- named Nicholas Marc- did his part to honour Canada’s fallen by laying a wreath at his school’s cenotaph. Through small things like this, Marc Leger remains a presence in his family’s life. “As time goes by,” Mrs. Leger tells me, “It doesn’t get easier, but you learn to live with it.” An obvious help is that her son’s spirit still lives on.
Almost immediately before I spoke to her, Claire Leger was on an overpass on the Highway of Heroes, waiting for the motorcade of cars from CFB Trenton that would be carrying the body of the most recent victim of the Afghan mission to the coroner’s office in Toronto. It was heart-warming, she says, to see so many people standing there to honour one of Canada’s fallen. And, she points out, it is, quite literally, a bit of everyone and anyone- ordinary citizens, police officers, and firefighters.
It is important, says Mrs. Leger, to know that it isn’t just you that grieves. When her son died, it was so important to her that the family weren’t the only ones grieving, that they could sense that. It meant so much to her that the average Canadian cared; that, from coast to coast, total strangers stood in long lines to get into memorials and ceremonies. That, she says, is exactly what she needed.
In fact, Claire Leger tells me, she thinks that is the reason that she is still here today.