A community came together on Clarington Fields in Bowmanville recently to honour one of its own. The Highway of Heroes Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) Monument was dedicated at a ceremony, recognizing Bowmanville resident Trooper Darryl Caswell, a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan nine years ago. The monument is also a tribute to the other 157 fallen veterans who were repatriated along adjacent Highway 401.
Caswell’s little brother Logan was marking his 12th birthday that tragic day. Now 21, Logan is a journalism student at Durham College and member of the committee which raised more than $150,000 for the project.
As Logan stood in front of a crowd of around 1,000, he spoke of his determination to create a lasting tribute for his brother and the other 157 fallen veterans.
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my brother and the other 157 Canadians that paid the ultimate sacrifice serving their country,” said Logan as he recalled the day when he received the “horrible news,” his brother had been killed.
The stretch of highway between CFB Trenton and Toronto, which runs through Bowmanville, became known as the Highway of Heroes during the time when Canada was involved in the military mission in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014.
It was a common sight to see the bridges over the busy highway draped in Canadian flags where spontaneous crowds, and emergency vehicles with flashing lights, stood in solemn, silent tribute to honour the cavalcade carrying the fallen soldiers as they passed beneath.
“Growing up in Bowmanville, Highway 401… always ran through our town, but after the first casualties in the Afghanistan war the highway became something more,” said Caswell in his address to the crowd which included Clarington mayor Adrian Foster, MP for Durham, Erin O’Toole and Durham Regional Chair, Roger Anderson.
“The flags, waves and tears from the bridges became something of hope, a little bit of bright light on the dark days,” he said.
Bowmanville is the latest Ontario town to make a memorial from one of these demilitarized vehicles. Constructed in London, Ont., these tanks were often home for up to ten soldiers on active patrols in Afghanistan.
Kevin Newman was master of ceremonies at the event. The CTV news anchor also reported from Afghanistan during the conflict, and had first-hand knowledge of life in a LAV III. Newman said the LAV III was thought of as home to the soldiers, who were often crammed in the small space for days without showering. “It was the only place of comfort in a desolate desert,” he said.
Newman concluded, “This is not really a memory of war but a tribute to resolve by the men and woman that we told to fight, and the Canadian civilians who understood the stakes,” Newman added.
The LAV III Monument Program aims to honour the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. The monuments are built from decommissioned and demilitarized LAV III hulls, donated by the Canadian government. Each community is responsible for the monument’s cost of $17,500 plus estimated installation and transportation costs.
The final dedication of the monument will take place next spring when the LAV III will be craned onto the concrete base which needs to harden to support its weight.