A cenotaph monument to be dedicated this weekend at the Royal Canadian Legion Crescent Branch 240 is likely a first for North America and beyond.
The memorial, to be unveiled Saturday at noon at the legion (2643 128 St.) – in a ceremony open to the public – commemorates the sacrifice of Canadian men and women who gave up their lives while serving with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
The new cenotaph will join two other memorials at the legion – one honouring the Canadian veterans who served in the First and Second World Wars, and the other remembering those who served in Canadian peacekeeping missions.
“The three together will form a combined cenotaph to recognize all areas of service,” said branch president George Temperton.
“As far as we know, this is the first (memorial to NATO veterans) in Canada, if not in the world,” said S“There are none in the U.S. yet and none in England,” he added.
Temperton and Theriault both gave tribute to a group of business people and legion members who launched the project this spring, and Ves Vukovic of South Surrey’s Stonemarks Engraving, who has donated both the stone and his own engraving skills.
The two stones that form the new monument, carved from dark B.C. granite, weigh a combined total of close to 1,500 lbs.
“If somebody wanted a monument like this created, it would cost $15,000 once it’s carved and all the high-tech work is done,” said legion promotions and advertising manager Henri Wendel.
Wendel noted that the legion’s mandate limits the way it can use revenues from liquor sales, meat draws and 50/50 draws – with the emphasis on grants and bursaries.
“The way things are run, we can’t use the funds we raise to erect cenotaphs,” Theriault said.
“It’s thanks to this gentleman that this is happening,” he added, pointing to Vukovic. Vukovic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia, said he views helping create the monument as a logical way to give back to his adopted country.
“As a guy who came to Canada 18 years ago after the Bosnian War, I think it’s important to participate in community projects, particularly those that support veterans,” he said. “The whole idea is for immigrants who came to Canada to get involved, especially if they’re now finding themselves comfortable.”
An inscription on the cenotaph reads, Through this stone we touch the lives of those who served for freedom, and the creation of such a monument is seen by members as part of the mandate of the Royal Canadian Legion since its incorporation in 1926.
NATO – seen largely as a peacetime military alliance – was established in 1949 as a response by Western nations against aggressive military expansion by the Soviet Union in the wake of the Second World War and fears that unstable Western European nations would join the U.S.S.R.’s communist satellites in Eastern Europe.
Although the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the 1980s led some to question the validity of NATO, international instability and the threat of violent extremism have ensured its continuing role.
The sacrifices the new cenotaph honours are very real, Theriault noted.
In Afghanistan, 145 members of the military have lost their lives serving with NATO forces, and in the former Yugoslavia, 12 Canadians serving NATO troops were killed, joining 13 others killed while serving as United Nations peacekeepers.
Eight of those lost in the two missions were from B.C.
“It’s hard to get NATO veterans into the legion,” noted Wendel. “They want to forget what happened.”
But the organizers of the project hope the monument is a first step toward letting such veterans know that their service has not been overlooked.
“It’s open to he public and everyone is welcome to attend,” said Theriault of Saturday’s ceremony.
“It’s not only for legion members, it’s for the community.”
Those intending to participate should be at the site no later than noon on Saturday, he said.