Honouring sacrifice

Just days after Governor General Michaëlle Jean announced the creation of the Sacrifice Medal, a federal government news release contained information of the death of three Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

All three men killed in action — Corporal Andrew Grenon, Corporal Michael  Seggie and Private Chadwick  Horn — were with the Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based in Shilo, Manitoba. Besides the three soldiers from Manitoba killed, the same news release said five others were injured in the same “insurgent attack on their armoured vehicle while they were conducting a security patrol in Zharey district at approximately 9:30 a.m., Kandahar time, on September 3.”

The injured soldiers were evacuated by helicopter to the Multi-National Medical Facility at Kandahar Airport. One of the soldiers was reported to be in critical condition, another in serious, but stable, while two were said to be in good condition and one was treated and returned to duty.

“The commitment and sacrifice of our soldiers are helping to make a difference in the lives of the people of Kandahar Province,” said the official government release of the tragic incident. “We will continue our mission as we remember the lives of our fallen soldiers.”

That is the exact purpose of the new medal and all the men killed and injured will receive the Sacrifice Medal.

According to the Canadian government, the Sacrifice Medal was created to recognize a member of the Canadian Forces, a member of an allied force, or a Canadian civilian under the authority of the Canadian Forces who, as of October 7, 2001, (date the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan commenced) died or was wounded under honourable circumstances as a direct result of hostile action.

“Our soldiers deserve our utmost respect and deepest gratitude,” said Governor General Jean. “This medal recognizes the valued contribution of those who sacrifice their health or their lives while serving Canada.”

This is the first time Canada has initiated such a medal. In the United States, the similar Purple Heart has been in existence since the American revolution, although it fell into disuse until revived in the 1930s.

“Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen,” said George Washington, then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and later the first U.S. President, in an order dated August 7, 1782.

Similar to Canada’s new Sacrifice Medal, the Purple Heart is awarded for “being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces.”

But only military personnel are eligible for the Purple Heart, while, besides military personnel, the Sacrifice Medal can be awarded to civilians “under the authority of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

It is a distinction which is well merited, and undoubtedly takes into consideration what happened in the case of seamen  with the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. During the war, 1,064 Canadian merchantmen died in action — usually the result of drowning after their ships sank following attacks by German U-Boats — and only recently received recognition for their valuable contribution to the war effort. It was the civilian sailors of the Merchant Navy who brought the cargo overseas which fed imperiled Great Britain and supplied Allied troops with food and equipment to defeat Hitler. When the convoys criss-crossed the Atlantic during the Second World War, the civilian sailors and ships of the Merchant Navy were under the direct authority of the Canadian Navy, commencing in 1939.

In 1994, Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn resided over the installation of a sixth Book of Remembrance dedicated to the memory of the Merchant Navy’s war dead in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower.

It wasn’t until 1999 that former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson announced the Gulf of St. Lawrence Commemorative Distinction, recognizing the Canadian and Newfoundland (not a Canadian province until after the war in 1949) Merchant Navies for “courage, fortitude and professionalism during the Battle of the Gulf of  St. Lawrence between 1942 and 1944.”

"Canadians recognize and appreciate the efforts and sacrifice of all civilians who served overseas ...,” said former Veterans Affairs Minister George Baker when announcing benefits for surviving Merchant Navy personnel in 2000. “Without their efforts, just think how differently the war in Europe might have turned out.” 

After a delay of over half a century, they were granted better access to income support and disability pensions, as well as further health-care benefits and support through the Veterans Independence Program.

If the Sacrifice Medal existed during the Second World War, the members of the Canadian Merchant Navy wounded or killed while crossing the Atlantic would have been eligible to receive it based on the criteria outlined by Governor General Jean.

The same bravery and courage shown by the Second World war merchantmen is evident in the civilian workers under the authority of the Canadian Forces. They bring comfort and aid to the people of Afghanistan or to people of other nations while serving in trouble spots around the globe with Canadian military personnel. 

The Sacrifice Medal bears an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on its obverse side. On the reverse is a representation of the statue called “Canada” that forms part of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. The inscription “Sacrifice” appears in the lower right half of the medal on the reverse side. The service number, rank, forename initials and surname of any military recipient or the forenames and surnames of any civilian recipient is engraved on the edge of the medal.

While it is ultimately desirable for peace to reign throughout the world, as long as Canadian military personnel and civilians are put at risk in the name of peace and security, it is only fitting that they should receive recognition from their country for their sacrifices.