It was exactly one week ago today when Canada, and specifically our Armed Forces, felt the second sting from terror attacks on home soil. Last Monday, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent out of Quebec was run over by what was later to be discovered as a “home grown terrorist.” The next day, Prime Minister Harper and opposition leader Justin Trudeau would quibble in Parliament about what to do about it. Less than 24 hours after that argument, Prime Minister Harper would be hiding in a closet while a shooter ran loose on the Hill in Ottawa. That shooter would gun down one of our own soldiers who was standing on guard for Canada at the National War Memorial. The funeral for the fallen soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was held yesterday in Hamilton, Ontario. The National Post reported Oct. 28 that the funeral for this fallen soldier was a full military regimental funeral, and drew thousands along the streets of Hamilton as Canada bade farewell to our latest fallen hero.
The word “home grown terrorist” is one on the lips of Canadians after last week’s attack on our military. Yesterday in Hamilton however, while the words may have been on the minds of those attending the funeral for Cpl. Cirillo, thoughts of Canadians were centered on saying a proper goodbye to a man that paid the ultimate price for his country. Thousands were in attendance at the regimental funeral in Hamilton yesterday according to the National Post.
In addition to citizens from all over Ontario, attending Nathan’s funeral were many dignitaries including Prime Minister Harper who provided a heartfelt address to Nathan, his family, and the nation. Opposition leaders Justin Trudeau and Tim Mulcair were also in attendance. And while there were many dignitaries present to honour Cpl. Nathan Cirillo yesterday, it was clear who the true shining star was at Christ’s Cathedral Church yesterday afternoon.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was the second in command of his division at the Argylls Sutherland Highlanders regiment in Hamilton, Ontario. In addition to serving tours in Afghanistan, he’s also well known in his regiment as a good kid with a big heart, and a love for animals. After being gunned down at the National War Memorial last week while guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier, Nathan leaves behind two siblings, a 5-year-old son, and a broken-hearted mother.
The ceremony to honour Nathan’s service to his country, and the ultimate price that he paid, began on a rainy morning yesterday in Bayfront Park by the Argyll Pavillion. This site was chosen specifically as it was a favored place of the regiment, where the Argylls Sutherland Highlanders frequently held ceremony. At the front of the procession were the Argylls, marching solemnly in place behind the soldiers carrying Nathan’s casket.
Directly behind Nathan was perhaps the saddest sight of all. A 5-year-old boy held his aunt’s hand while wearing his dad’s glengarry beret. Marcus Cirillo waved a Canadian flag, and looked around at the massive crowds as he walked behind the procession carrying his father to Nathan’s last official military ceremony.
As we reported yesterday, the funeral procession for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo marched from the pavilion and moved south on Bay St. North continuing through to York Blvd. in Hamilton. From there the march proceeded north to James St. During the march soldiers were marching with what is known as “reversed arms.” This is a symbolic gesture recognized by the military during a regimental funeral.
Marching with “reversed arms” means marching with guns pointing downwards. As our DND source tells us, this is a symbolic gesture that sends the message to the public, and to the enemy, that “our guns are down.” The reversed arms symbolism is the military’s way of saying, today we are not fighting. Today we are grieving.
As the procession arrived closer to Christ’s Church Cathedral it came to a slow halt. Before entry into the church, soldiers placed the bayonet of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, along with his Argyll Sutherland Highlanders badge and belt on top of the casket that was already draped with the Canadian flag. Soldiers then carried the casket into the church.
We have learned that the soldiers serving as pallbearers to the event were chosen to carry Nathan’s casket as a result of their friendship. The soldiers closest to Nathan were chosen for this task. As the procession got closer to the church, and the pallbearers had been carrying Nathan for almost an hour, the faces of the soldiers tightened with both grief and pain at the task that lay before them.
As the casket carrying Cpl. Nathan Cirillo arrived at the church, a lone solo piper was heard playing a Scottish lament. This was followed by orders from the Commanding Officer of the procession. The procession then entered the church with many attendees already seated.
Nathan was placed in the center of the altar, and his mother Kathy Cirillo was taken to see him with one soldier on each of her sides. Clearly struggling with overwhelming grief, Kathy openly sobbed as she said goodbye to her son. Before being taken to a pew, Kathy kissed Nathan’s Argyll badge with tears rolling down her face.
The ceremony for Nathan began shortly thereafter, and began with a reading of the Proclamation of the Word by Col. A.E. Earp. The Colonel read from Ecclesiastes 3: 1- 8, emphasizing phrases such as,
“There is a time for war, a time for peace……God has done this.”
Reverend Douglas Crosby then read from Psalm 23. This was followed by Reverand Michael Bird who read from the book of Matthew. Following that, the chaplain for the Argyll Sutherland Highlanders Major Reverend Canon Rob Fead gave a personal address.
The Major spoke very lovingly of Nathan Cirillo. The CBC News reports that he thanked the Cirillo family for sharing their grief with the country. He complimented and applauded his efforts in the service, as a Canadian citizen, and as a human being in the world. Major Reverand Canon Rob Fead elicited some tears from the crowds when he thanked the Cirillo family for their sacrifice of Nathan, and told t hem Nathan was “Canada’s son.” More tears were on the horizon for anyone watching when the Major then addressed Nathan personally.
“Nathan, these words are for you. Because of you, every Argyll and every military personnel stands prouder today. Nathan, because of you, Canada is more united today. Nathan, you have made a difference. Well done good and faithful soldier.”
Following this, Jenny Holland, cousin to Nathan Cirillo provided a very moving eulogy. Jenny described the man that was outside of the military uniform. Jenny introduced Canada to a man that couldn’t wait to get his first dog that “wasn’t a poodle”, described what a loving father Nathan was, and how Nathan always had an exuberant energy that made him ready for any adventure.
Jenny was probably the only person in the room packed with thousands that could make Kathy Cirillo laugh yesterday. She did so when she described Kathy as “Nathan’s original drill sergeant.” This led many of the pall bearer soldiers seated on the altar to begin openly wiping their eyes, and taking big breaths. Jenny also said,
“Right from the start we knew Nathan was special and would do great things.”
After Jenny spoke, Prime Minister Harper gave a moving address. It may have been the only time Canada has ever seen their Prime Minister shed tears, but we did. Prime Minister Harper was very moved during his address,
“We are gathered here today to give thanks for the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo who gave his life for our Canada…..This Regiment’s fine example of courage under fire is distinctive, and is a history, written in blood.”
It was when the Prime Minister addressed the son of Cpl. Cirillo, 5-year-old Marcus Daniel Cirillo, that he began to choke up in front of Canada.
“May his son, Marcus Daniel Cirillo find comfort in the fact that Canada looks up to his dad, with pride, gratitude, and deep abiding respect.”
With war and home grown terrorists on the mind of every Canadian right now, Prime Minister Harper also spoke about the cost of freedom. He said,
“Freedom has a price. Freedom is never free. It is earned by the soldier, and then donated to all of us.”
Prime Minister Harper then reminded us all of the memory that the National War Memorial would leave for Canada, that it would leave the legacy of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Prime Minister Harper concluded his address by saying,
“For Canadians, the National War Memorial will always bear the memory of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Our hearts are broken at this loss. May God bless Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Canada is better for his life, we are diminished by his loss.”
The last person to speak for Nathan was his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lawrence Hatfield. He said the regiment has been uplifted by the overwhelming support of the community, of Canada, and of the world. Like most that had been speaking that day, Lt. Col. Hatfield also began choking up when he said,
“Nathan was a brother in our arms. My two best words for him are strength, and character. His warm and radiant smile is unmistakable confidence. He was born with this strength. We’ve seen it in his family. He was the picture of magnificent abundance. The Army needs qualities like Nathan possessed.”
With that, the ceremony began to conclude with soldiers standing and silently marching in place while bagpipes began playing “Amazing Grace.” The Reverend provided the Apostle’s Creed, and all in attendance that knew it said it along with him. Following that the service ended with prayer.
The Reverend prayed for the Queen, for Prime Minister Harper, for all of the members of the Argylls, asking God to “defend them day by day with your grace.” As the prayer ended, the procession to exit the church began. Within moments the streets of Hamilton were lined with thousands of people again, some of them who were there during the entire service.
Even so, you would have been able to hear a pin drop on James Street yesterday. The only sound heard before the procession began again was the sound of a lone horse from the RCMP neighing their last respect to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. It was an eerie moment.
The church ceremony was followed by a burial at Woodlawn Cemetery. Nathan was interred in the Field of Honour in a ceremony that was closed to the public, and for the family and by invitation only. As the procession began to move towards the cemetery, notable dignitaries to Canada were seen including opposition leaders Justin Trudeau and Tim Mulcair. Shortly after the ceremony Justin Trudeau tweeted,
“Beautiful service for a true Canadian hero. Rest in peace, Corporal Cirillo. Canada will not forget your sacrifice.”
Justin Trudeau was not the only person to tweet about the events of the past week in Canada. United States Secretary of State John Kerry was not in attendance at the funeral yesterday. He was visiting Canada however, and was laying a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa for him while the ceremony was taking place.
After the ceremony, Prime Minister Harper was heading back to Ottawa to talk with John Kerry about relationships between Canada and the United States in light of the recent attacks on Canada. While John Kerry waited for Harper to arrive back in Ottawa, he tweeted a picture of his moment at the National War Memorial and said,
“I came to #Ottawa today in time of sorrow/U.S. grateful every day that #Canada is our neighbor.
In the past week, the world has seen up close Canada’s strength/unity/resolve. #CanadaStrong”
The trending topic of “#CanadaStrong” has been seen millions of times over in the Twittersphere since the attacks on Canadian military last week. As Canada is diminished by these losses, Canada appears to remain uplifted by the unity and resolve that has grown out of these senseless acts of home grown terrorism. Watch the procession and moments from the funeral in the highlight reel courtesy of The National.