8 Jun 2007
Master Corporal Darrell Priede was not a close friend of mine, but in a small town you get to know everyone. You see people come and go and you attend the same school. You go to the same corner store and join the same groups. You know where everyone lives, where everyone works.
And that’s about how well I knew Darrell.
As young teenagers, we were both members of Royal Canadian Air Cadets, Boundary 841. I can see him there in his uniform, standing in the old hall in Midway, B.C. I can see him looking over engine manuals and understanding the complexities that were so foreign to me.
I’m sure he was there, close-by, standing on the blistering hot parade square at the Vernon Army Base cadet camp, waiting to receive commendation for the training we received one summer.
That was back in the late ‘80s, back when we were deciding what to do with our lives.
That final day is where my commitment to the Air Force came to an end. And by Grade 10, I no longer dreamed of joining the troops, traveling the world and fighting for justice. Maybe I had been disillusioned by the realities of having an uncle travel to Iran and Iraq in 1991, as a peacekeeper working on communication lines.
But those formative years were just the beginning for Darrell’s life as a Canadian soldier.
Shortly after, he changed schools and was all but forgotten as I moved on to my life as a civilian reporter. He moved on to photography, and remained with the Forces. He went to the Balkans and Bosnia, and eventually Afghanistan.
The next time I saw Darrell Priede’s shining, enthusiastic smile was on the cover of a daily, dropped at my door one morning – Canada’s latest fallen soldier, along with six others who went down in an American CH-47 Chinook helicopter,
I knew that face. I knew that name. But to fill in the blanks, I called our old high school vice-principal at Boundary Central Secondary.
“A while back I stopped in at Gillies Restaurant (where Darrell’s mother works in Grand Forks),” Louise Bayles recalls. “She had said Darrell was going there (Afghanistan), or was there already.”
“But she said he was going as a photographer, so she thought he was going to be safe. I remember it was bone chilling at the time,” she says.
Now, Darrell was the guy in high school who never made a fuss.
“He was genuinely a nice guy,” Bayles told me, and it rung true.
“Our secretary, Irene, remembers that in the winters she would see him cleaning out the driveways of the elderly before coming to school,” she says.
And then, not so long ago, she saw a joyful announcement in the small town’s newspaper.
“I saw his name in the Gazette,” she says, “and that he had gotten married.”
Over the past week, it’s occurred to me that maybe it was cowardice that kept me from fulfilling my initial craving to serve my country. The thing is I’ve always had this burning desire to live, to have children, and a family. I had a desire to leave a legacy.
I thought joining the military would be a way of disappearing and I didn’t want to do that.
And each time a newspaper dropped on my doorstep with smiling pictures of dead soldiers, I quietly confirmed that I had made the right decision.
The truth is, although it bothers me that someone I once knew was shot down and killed, I don’t know how to feel about Darrell’s death. He signed up to go to one of the most dangerous places on Earth. I just know that to call it something other than a death – be it “legacy” or “sacrifice” or some other euphemism – is an injustice to all those soldiers fighting overseas who are still alive.
Because I would bet each and every one of them wants to come home alive.