Portraits of Honour – Remembering our Fallen Troops

I received a call on Thursday night from a friend, Henk, who is active in the Kinsman Club (now called Kin Canada).  He invited me to come out with the club on Saturday to take a road trip to meet Dave Sopha.  This was a trip that would also include troops from the Combat Engineer Regiment (CER) from St. Thomas.  The troops were selected to catch an early glimpse of the Portraits of Honour, a 50’ by 10’ mural commemorating fallen Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

I had not heard of Dave Sopha, but the project sounded unique, and likely it would be an emotional experience.  I decided to go along, and brought my son with me.  Jordan, my son, is a Sapper in the Royal Canadian Army Cadets.  I felt this would be a chance for him to gain some insight into the reality of the lives lost in battle.  He didn’t want to go at first.  He wanted to stay at home instead.  Eventually, it wasn’t a choice, he was coming.

Like many Canadians, Cambridge artist Dave Sopha watched news reports of the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Repeatedly facing heartbreak at the loss of troops, he was emotionally compelled to create a lasting memory for Canadians across the nation.  Portraits of Honour is the result.

As a national service project of Kin Canada, Zone K Deputy Governor Brad Bedford, contacted the Commanding Officer at the CER to offer a once in a lifetime opportunity; to meet the artist and view the work before it begins it’s national tour in June.  Brad explained that the project has the “full and complete support of the Canadian military.”  To date, Kin have donated $3000 to assist with the development of the project.

W.O. MacDonald stands with CER
When we arrived at the National Kin Canada Headquarters, all the visitors filed in small groups into an elevator that took us to the lower level that has been transformed into the artist’s studio as he works towards the completion of the mural.  Dave explained that each face on the mural takes approximately 80 hours of work.  He starts with their eyes, taking time to get them right, then moves on.  There are at least seven layers of painting to each face.  After spending so much time, staring into their eyes day after day, he knows them.  He can see their life in their eyes.  He is their best friend.

Anyone questioning the value of such a project need only to speak to Warrant Officer Reginald MacDonald.   He has served tours in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008-09 explaining that just witnessing this mural was a, “great honour and very emotional.”  With his first Afghanistan tour in 2004 with NATO and his second as the Senior DET Commander, W.O. MacDonald, came to the Combat Engineer Regiment in August with 22 years of service.  He personally knew twenty of the men and women memorialized on the mural.  Seeing their faces brought him to tears as he spoke to the CER members of the heroes and their sacrifice.  Many tears were shed as each regiment member reflected on the lives represented.  Men and women who will stand guard for Canada joined in solemn respect for the lives of their friends, colleagues and fellow troops who have given the ultimate sacrifice for Canada.

Chief Warrant Officer McGinnis has not served in Afghanistan, but has served in peacekeeping in the middle east.  He explained to me as we traveled on the bus that “We are making a difference, but it will take time.”  He explained that “we are building schools and we are opening up knowledge, giving a broader concept through education.”  CWO McGinnis also helped me understand that the construction of roads increases integration and awareness of other people.  This isn’t the information that you hear on the news or read in most papers.  There is real work happening that we miss out on every day.

When we visited Dave, there were 154 soldiers represented on the mural.  He hoped not to have to add any more.  The following day, Canada lost another soldier.  Corporal Yannick Scherrer from Montreal Quebec was killed by an improvised explosive device while he was on foot patrol.  He will be added to the mural.

The Portraits of Honour will travel to the city of each fallen soldier with all money raised through donations and sponsors, directly supporting the Military Family Fund.  The tour wraps up on November 11, 2011 in Ottawa.

Combat Engineer Regiment with Dave Sopha (Front Centre)

When my son and I arrived home, he thanked me for taking him adding that he was glad he went.
Jordan, Dave Sopha, Me


One thought on “Portraits of Honour – Remembering our Fallen Troops

  1. Amazing story!! What a generous man, to use his talents and resources for this inspiring memorial. And kudos to Kin Canada for putting their money behind this! Thanks for picking up this story and sharing it, looking forward to see what else you dig up.

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