TU THANH HA AND JOSH WINGROVE
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
December 5, 2008 at 11:00 PM EST
Two years ago, during a Canadian-led offensive in Afghanistan, Corporal Mark McLaren was one of 35 soldiers wounded after an American A-10 jet strafed their encampment by mistake.
Hit with shrapnel in the neck, chest and leg, he spent three weeks in hospital but held no grudges against the pilot. He volunteered for a second Afghan tour.
Yesterday, Cpl. McLaren and two other soldiers from the Royal Canadian Regiment died when a makeshift bomb hit their vehicle, near the Arghandab district, the same area where he had been injured in 2006.
The three had been part of a mentoring team embedded with Afghan soldiers. Cpl. McLaren died weeks after he had saved one of his trainees during a firefight.
“Mark risked his life by crawling towards an Afghan soldier who had been shot to provide first aid while under fire,” Brigadier-General Denis Thompson said.
His fiancée, Michelle-Anne Shaw, got the news at their home near CFB Petawawa, just outside Ottawa. She immediately called his father, Alan, in Peterborough, Ont.
“The poor girl was in tears. She had a hard time telling me, ‘Al, this is the worst news I ever wanted to tell you,'” Alan McLaren recalled yesterday.
Also killed by the improvised mine were Private Demetrios (Dip) Diplaros and veteran soldier Warrant Officer Robert Wilson.
WO Wilson, 38, leaves behind a young daughter, Emily, and son, Owen.
This was the most recent in a string of tours around the world for WO Wilson, a career military man, but one that, for the first time, he didn't want to do. Instead, he'd hoped to teach, a request the armed forces agreed to, only to ask him to lead 22 soldiers in one more tour in Afghanistan, his aunt Debbie Sedore told The Globe and Mail last night.
“He didn't want to be there. He loved doing what he was doing, he loved the army, he'd made a career out of it, but he'd had enough. … He just wanted to teach,” said a sobbing Ms. Sedore, 53. “He was a wonderful, soldier, wonderful father, he had a great sense of humour. He loved his family. He just, he just loved doing what he was doing.”
The family were coping “terribly” last night, she said, gripped with grief and anger.
WO Wilson's children were with their mother, who met WO Wilson in the armed forces. They'd separated, and WO Wilson also leaves behind a girlfriend of about one year.
WO Wilson's always wanted to be a soldier, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who spent 35 years in the army.
“He wanted to be just like him,” Ms. Sedore said. “He was just a terrific man, and he was so young. But I'm just so upset.”
The young Cpl. McLaren had considered leaving the army to become a police officer upon his return, friends said. In an e-mail to a close friend two weeks ago, he wrote that his quality of life had gone up in his second tour, during which he was working with Afghanistan's own security forces.
“You take the good with the bad. But I'm with a good crew so it's okay,” he wrote.
Cpl. McLaren “was living his dream, doing what he wanted to do. He believed passionately in going over and serving,” his father said.
After his first tour, he came back and bought a white Chrysler 300, which he dubbed his Manilla Gorilla. Cpl. McLaren had a passion for cars, and modified the vehicle extensively himself. He had talked about settling down in Ontario – where friends remember his smile and confident streak, including the “I love myself” birthday parties he unfailingly threw for himself. But Cpl. McLaren, they said, believed in the Afghanistan mission and decided to return.
“He felt it was what he could do to help everyone. If he couldn't do anything here, he was going back to help there. That's just the type of person he was,” said friend Ashley-Marie O'Keefe, 23.
Like Cpl. McLaren and WO Wilson, Pte. Diplaros had long wanted to be a soldier.
Before settling in Toronto in 1974, Pte. Diplaros's father, Anargyros, had served in the Greek army. Mr. Diplaros recalled yesterday that his only son once looked at photos of his father in a Greek military uniform.
“Dad, I'm going to be like you,” the young man said.
“I did my best to explain to him that the army isn't like a video game. I wanted him to think about it seriously,” Mr. Diplaros recalled.
“But he understood. He was looking forward to it.”
The young Mr. Diplaros came home on a leave last month with pictures and videos of him in Afghanistan. There, he was known as “Dip” by fellow soldiers who couldn't pronounce his last name.
“He was telling me he's taking care of himself. He was telling that about his fellow Americans, how protective they are toward Canadians,” his father said.
Cpl. McLaren, a one-time Boy Scout who grew up in Peterborough, Ont., joined the cadets as an 11-year-old. He joined the reserves in Grade 11 – ridding himself of a mohawk – and wore his uniform to graduation. He was still a reservist with the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment when he first went to Afghanistan. The friendly-fire incident in which he was wounded also killed a fellow RCR soldier.
After, Cpl. McLaren got in touch with the American who had injured him, his father said.
“He spoke to him. He told him there was no ill will towards them. He said he understood that those things happen. Some people would get bitter and angry. He didn't hold a grudge.”
Afterward, he made light of his wounds. “He was, like, ‘Just called to let you know I've got some new metal in my body,'” said long-time friend Katherine Robson, 23.
“When he said he was going over again, I was like, ‘Why? You already went over once.' But he believed in the cause.”
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