It’s been more than three months since Cpl. James Hayward Arnal became the 88th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. But as reporter Selena Hinds, photojournalist Joe Bryksa, and multimedia editor Tyler Walsh discovered, the life and death of the Winnipeg solider continues to reverberate, leaving both pain as well as promise in its wake.

Shilo–based comrades bid farewell

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Four months after Cpl. James Hayward Arnal made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the same soldiers that served with him in his final moments joined together with his family in Winnipeg to say goodbye.

In a special Remembrance Day interment service, far from the hot desert sands of Kandahar, more than 60 Canadian Shilo–based soldiers showed their support as Arnal’s family buried him at Glen Lawn Memorial Gardens on Tuesday.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
 Comrades bow their heads during a moment of silence at Cpl. James Hayward Arnal�s burial service.

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Comrades bow their heads during a moment of silence at Cpl. James Hayward Arnal�s burial service.

Arnal’s family chose to wait for his comrades to return home this fall before burying his ashes. The 25–year–old Winnipeg soldier, who was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, was killed when he stepped on a roadside bomb while on foot patrol on July 18 of this year. Arnal was the 88th of 97 soldiers to die in combat since the mission in Afghanistan started in 2002.

The soldiers, in their dress uniforms, marched into the cemetery in typical military fashion, as Canadian flags were drawn to half–mast.

Dozens of family and friends, along with the soldiers, shivered as they bowed their heads in prayer and wept quietly during the ceremony on a peaceful, chilly morning.

One of the 60 soldiers to pay homage to Arnal was Sgt. Maj. Gord Cavanagh, his field commanding officer in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.

"Our platoon has been hit hard. We’ve lost 17 soldiers from PPCLI Shilo (since this war began in 2002)," said Cavanagh, noting he was also at a similar ceremony two years earlier for Cpl. Keith Morley – who Arnal is buried next to.

Morley was one of four Canadian soldiers who died in a suicide bomber attack while on foot patrol on Sept. 18, 2006.

As the two fallen heroes will lie next to each other, so too did the two families grieve together on Tuesday. Arnal’s family reserved a special spot at the service for the Morleys to acknowledge the loss of their son as well.

Prior to the ceremony, Arnal’s mother, Wendy Hayward–Miskiewicz and her husband Ken Miskiewicz, also quietly laid a wreath in front of a cenotaph that names and honours all of Canada’s soldiers who have fallen in conflict.

Cavanagh commented on how strong the camaraderie is between soldiers, and admitted the loss of Arnal has hit both him and the troops hard.

"James was a true warrior," he said. "He was a smart kid, he didn’t have to be in the army."

In a moment of silence, soldiers clutched their berets to their hearts and closed their eyes. The Last Post played as family and friends wiped tears away as they raised their guns to fire a final salute.

In front of Arnal’s newly placed headstone, a heart shaped urn containing his ashes stood on a table draped in a flag with PPCLI company colours. A wreath stood beside it, as well as a mirror for people to reflect when they approached the table.

"I decided to go with the heart, which is in two pieces. One for James and one for myself, for when I die," said Hayward–Miskiewicz, during an interview in the days leading up to the service.

In following with PPCLI tradition, the soldiers raised a glass of dark rum to toast Arnal one last time as the song, Amazing Grace, played in the background.

Platoon commander Capt. Andrew Chang, who walked alongside James in his final moments, addressed the crowd.

"We'’re all better for knowing you," he said.

After the family left, each soldier took a turn to pay respects.

One by one, they gave a final salute, removed their poppy and placed it on the wreath by Arnal’s urn.

Chang echoed Cavanagh’s remarks and described Arnal as a confident soldier, who brought much needed experience to the fellow troops, many of whom were on their first tour of duty.

"He was good at what he did," said Chang. "The guys looked up to him.

He had skills that were superior to his level. He was a leader."

Chang noted that while today represented closure for family and friends, it also marked the true end of the tour for the soldiers – now that James is at rest.

selena.hinds@freepress.mb.ca

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