Remembrance Day: Afghan war through the eyes of vets in ‘War Story’
The daily dispatches of casualties have ceased. So too have the ramp ceremonies to honour the Canadians who died in combat.
Now, four years after the Canadian battle group withdrew its last troops from Kandahar HISTORY is looking at the war through a different lens.
“It’s really no longer journalism,” says War Story: Afghanistan director Barry Stevens. “It’s just beginning to be history. Journalists write the first draft of history and we write the second.”
The six-part series investigates the origins of the war. It begins with the 9-11 terrorist attacks before embarking on a linear journey through Canada’s involvement in the war, from Canada’s first troops on the ground to hunt al Qaeda in 2002 to its long-term mission policing the province of Kandahar.
It was there that the Canadian military changed “from being the nice guys with blue helmets”, as Stevens says, to an army on a combat mission.
“The Taliban really thought the Canadians were a little soft,” says Stevens. “‘The Americans have gone to Iraq. We can take them on and take back Kandahar.’ They failed. The Canadians did stop them.”
But it came at a price: 158 would lose their lives and over 2,000 wounded — including Paul Franklin who lost both his legs in the car bomb attack that killed diplomat Glyn Berry.
It was January 15, 2006, and Franklin was driving Berry back to the base. What happened next is a blur. His co-driver called, “car right.” Franklin swerved just enough, but the Mercedes G-wagon corkscrewed in the air. Berry was dead, Franklin’s legs had been blown off.
At the hospital, he had tourniquets put on his legs while doctors worked on other soldiers.
“I’ve got to make it to the next minute,” he remembers. “As a medic I have to slow my breathing because if I pass out the blood vessels will relax and I’ll bleed out.”
He then did what came naturally — he started telling jokes.
“I was just saying there’s no way I’m to run again. Climbings out of the question. I was just laughing it up.”
Today, Franklin does speaking engagements about his experiences. Despite his injuries he maintains Afghanistan was a “moral war” and that the true mission was to protect the women and children and help rebuild a country torn apart by the Taliban.
His helmet and tourniquets from the day he lost his legs now rest in the Canadian War Museum.
“Was the sacrifice worth it?” he asks. “That’s the question. And it’s a difficult one to answer. I lost my wife, we separated. My son is great, he’s doing awesome. It broke the marriage as well as the legs.”
The documentary also details operation Medusa, the largest military operation Canada had undertaken since the Korean war. It would be described as a victory for the Canadian forces.
But on Sept. 4, 2006, an American piloting an A-10 warthog opened up on the Canadians, wounding 38 and killing one. Moncur oddly enough remembers being happy that morning he grabbed beans and wieners for breakfast.
“I’d had the unfortunate luck of getting ham steak and mustard sauce three days in a row, so I made sure I was one of the first to get in line.”
And then, like Franklin, it all happened in a blur. He thought it was fireworks at first or that someone had thrown live ammunition in a fire. He got knocked down and came to with his arm flailing around as he says “like a fish.”
He would have 5 per cent of his brain removed.
“After the surgery I lost the ability to read, write, walk and my talking was slurred,” he says. “So, I eventually came back and did extensive occupational therapy.”
But once back home in Windsor, Ont. he says he fell between the cracks. He was given a lump sum payment on his pension of $22,000 which he says wasn’t enough “to pay for my groceries.”
In 2010, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and finally began to get the treatment he needed. He went back to school but struggled with his short term memory.
“I liken it to this,” he says, “Climbing a mountain isn’t a problem for me but reading a book about climbing a book is a problem for me.”
He eventually went to work for NDP MP Joe Comartin to fight for veteran’s rights.
HISTORY is owned by Shaw Communications Inc., parent company of Global News.
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