Greenslade family & Telegraph-Journal photos

When sorrow won't be silenced

by Marty Klinkenberg - Saturday, September 8, 2007

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

Courage: After her son David was killed in Afghanistan, Laurie Greenslade became the face of every grieving military mother in Canada.

David Greenslade smiles brightly in the last photograph taken of him. In the driver's seat of a light-armoured vehicle in the desert in Afghanistan, he waves one dirty hand and snaps his own picture with the other.

"It is almost like he is saying goodbye," his mother, Laurie Greenslade, says as she sits in her living room in Saint John, surrounded by hundreds of red ribbons.

It has been five months since their only child was killed by a roadside bomb, but Laurie and her husband, Don, have yet to unpack the boxes the 20-year-old private had with him in Kandahar.

His friends have returned home from the mission that took David's life. They had a barbecue and bonfire with his parents, sitting in their front yard, on the banks of the Kennebecasis River. They told stories about David into the night. Hearing his buddies talk rubbed in that he isn't coming home.

So his belongings sit untouched.

"This isn't the time for that," Laurie says. "This is a time to go forward with David's mission."

On Sept. 28, Laurie and Don Greenslade will plant a red oak along Harbour Passage as a memorial to their son, who died on Easter with fellow members of Gagetown's 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment. The same day, during a Red Friday Support Rally that is expected to draw 20,000 to the Saint John waterfront, they will announce a one-time scholarship they hope becomes an annual gift.

"David was a fantastic kid, but we're not mad at the army, we're not mad at God and we're not mad at David," Laurie says. "I don't want people to feel sorry for us.

"I know David wanted to help people there."

Even before her son died, Laurie encouraged co-workers to wear red on Fridays as a show of support for Canadian soldiers. After his death, however, she and her husband expanded the effort, distributing red ribbons in banks, churches, coffee shops and supermarkets across the city.

With help from friends, they have handed out 30,000, and hope to pass out another 10,000 on Red Friday, a rally being organized with help from the City of Saint John. Lt.-Col. Rob Walker, commanding officer of the battle group in Afghanistan, will be part of a contingent attending from CFB Gagetown, along with veterans and war brides. Chris Roy, Josh King and Pat Leblanc, close friends who served with Greenslade in Kandahar, will also participate.

"David told me he couldn't live with himself if he didn't go to Afghanistan with his friends," Laurie says. "And I know David is happy they are back, that they made it home safely.

"How can I be sad?"

David Greenslade is one of 70 Canadian soldiers to die fighting the Taliban, and was one of seven men with ties to New Brunswick to die in roadside bombings during the same awful week in April. Unlike almost every other grieving military parent, however, the Greenslades have not avoided the spotlight in the aftermath.

Devoutly religious, Laurie has become the face of the mother of every Canadian soldier, appearing on television while trying to inspire moral support for the troops.

"I have always been a very private person, but being a spokesman for this is worth anything it helps support them," she says. "It doesn't matter if I fall flat on my face or if my hair looks funny on TV.

"I know my motives are pure. It's not something I ever set out to do. It just kicked in. It has to do with the way David was. He loved attention. As a child, it was always, 'Look at me, look at me, look at me.' So I know he would have loved this."

City officials are asking companies to extend their employees' lunch break so they can share in the 90-minute rally, scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Six thousand students from 10 schools will participate, including choirs from Saint John and Harbour View high schools.

CTV anchor Steve Murphy will preside over the program, which will include parades, pipers and trumpeters, and an appearance by country music performer Julian Austin, who entertained troops in Kandahar and is donating $5 from each sale of his current CD - Red & White - to a fund for wounded soldiers. Gen. Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces, will deliver a video message. Firefighters and other volunteers will collect donations throughout the event to help pay for the rally and bankroll the David Greenslade bursary.

"When it comes to down to it, what this amounts to is one mother reaching out to other mothers across the country to let them know that we care about their sons and daughters and want them to get home safely,'' Saint John councilor Ivan Court says. "It's going to be a rally for those who have served, those who are serving and those who are going to serve.

"We have young men and women from here leaving to serve over there, young people who are willing to give their life for others, and I think it is important to recognize and support them."

A former teacher at St. Malachy's Memorial High, Court lost his son at 18 to mononucleosis in 1992.

"I understand the pain these people feel," says Court, who helped the Greenslades hand out 5,000 pins at Wal-Mart over the last two months. "We're supposed to be buried by our children rather than the other way around.

"That pain never goes away."

Trees around the Greenslades' home in the city's north end are wrapped in yellow ribbons. There are ribbons tied to the front porch, and on a bench at the water's edge a few metres from their door. A row of tiny Canadian flags run the length of their driveway, and the cars parked in it have memorials to their son and his fallen comrades inscribed in the back windows.

A sticker on the rear of one car reads, "If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops, Feel Free to Stand in Front of Them."

Despite her brave face, Laurie Greenslade says she is occasionally overcome by waves of sadness when she thinks about her son, who joined a reserve unit in Grade 11 and had been in the regular forces for only 17 months when he died in the desert.

"I know what heartbreaking feels like now," she says.

She says she hopes everyone will wear red on Sept. 28, and on every Friday, for that matter. And if red isn't your colour, "We have ribbons, and they're free, and we'll even deliver them."

Yes, her only son is gone. But her mission isn't over.

"Every now and then I ask David, 'Am I done yet?'' she says. "He was our whole life, but we have no regrets. He was worth every amount of energy and effort we put into it.

"That's why we are still going on like this."