May 14, 2010Rest in peace, Sir.
Comrades bid emotional farewell to Pte. Kevin McKay, 24, killed by IED blast14/05/2010 8:28 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A soldier's soldier whose toughness, courage and quick wit shone through adversity began his journey home Friday after he was killed by an improvised explosive device, just days before he was scheduled to finish his first tour in Afghanistan and return to Canada.
Pte. Kevin McKay of the Edmonton-based 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, was on an evening foot patrol Thursday night when he was killed by an IED in Nakhonay, a village of about 2,000 people in the heart of the Panjwaii district, some 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.
Some of his comrades struggled to contain their tears as they hoisted his casket into the back of a Hercules plane at a nighttime ramp ceremony. The constant roar of jet engines at the Kandahar Airfield largely drowned out the padre's prayer and lone bagpiper's lament.
The 24-year-old McKay — originally from Richmond Hill, Ont., a suburban community north of Toronto — embodied the gritty spirit of the typical Canadian soldier, said Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar.
"He was the type of soldier that Canadians must think of when they think of their army in Afghanistan — the tough, courageous infantryman, living in austere conditions and doing incredibly difficult work," Hetherington said.
"His platoon brothers and friends will remember Kevin, better known as 'Mickey' to his buddies, as a generous man, dependable, with a quick wit and a great sense of humour that was exemplified by his awesome moustache."
Hetherington, who spoke on behalf of Brig.-Gen. Dan Menard, described McKay as short in stature, but known for dishing it out to his bigger military comrades.
"While not a tall man, he had no difficulty in poking fun and taunting those less vertically challenged platoon mates," Hetherington said.
His platoon commander remembered him as someone who lifted morale when it was needed most.
"He always could put a smile on your face, no matter how tough things got," said Capt. Michael Hughes.
"He was one of the most generous guys in the platoon ... The boys in the platoon really loved Mickey."
McKay's father Fred, a captain with the Toronto Fire Service, described his son as "everybody's friend,” and the kind of "guy that would take his shirt off his back to help someone out."
"We were kind of celebrating that he had made it, and that he would be home soon," he told CHAY FM.
The City of Toronto said it would it would honour the soldier by lowering flags at city hall and all civic centres to half-mast.<
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean both paid tribute to McKay in statements Friday.
"Canadians are forever proud and grateful for his service and for the contributions of all our men and women in uniform to this UN-mandated, NATO-led mission," Harper said.
"There are risks to our mission, but the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces are showing leadership, alongside our international partners, in standing up for something that is just: helping the Afghan people achieve peace and stability and rebuild their country and its institutions."
In her statement, Jean urged Canadians to remember the sacrifices of men and women like McKay.
"Let us pay tribute to this soldier who sacrificed his own life in the name of this ideal of justice and freedom," she said. "We will never forget him."
The vice-principal at Eastview Secondary School in Barrie, Ont., where McKay graduated from in 2004, said one of his teachers remembers McKay as a funny kid who loved sports and hanging out with friends.
The school and the Barrie fire department also lowered their flags to half-mast to honour McKay. (source: Winnipeg Free Press)