Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal photo

A year of tears

by Jeff Ducharme - Tuesday, April 8, 2008

This article is courtesy of Telegraph Journal

SAINT JOHN - No parent should ever outlive their child. Just ask Donnie and Laurie and Greenslade. That twist of fate has become a painful reality for the couple ever since that horrible moment when they were told that their only child wasn't coming home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Pte. David Greenslade died in action one year ago today - April 8, 2007. There would be no more fishing trips with dad, or watching movies with mom. The Greenslades cling to memories they have of their son - it is not nearly enough, but reality and faith sustain them.

The most hurtful changes since that day are obvious: the house rings with less laughter and David's dog, Colby, always seems to be searching, listening "¦ watching for his master.

A collapsible table dominates the entrance to the family's home. Its off-white plastic top is covered with pictures, scrapbooks, red-yellow ribbons and little Canadian flag pins. Pictures of the young man take up almost every free space.

Pte. Greenslade and five others died when a roadside bomb tore apart their armoured vehicle on Easter Sunday.

Donnie and Laurie will travel there this fall, though they won't be allowed to leave the base because of the ever-present danger. It's an important trip the couple hope to make with the parents of one of the other soldiers who died that day alongside their son - Pte. Kevin Kennedy.

"To see the area, the little kids he tried to help," said Donnie, adding he would like to hug one of those children.

Once a week, Laurie and a group of friends become the Red Ribbon Gals - providing support for each other and the troops. To this point, they've put together and distributed some 30,000 ribbons. The group also organized a red rally in Saint John last year that saw thousands of people stand in the pouring rain to pay tribute to David and the troops.

Sometimes the group makes red and yellow ribbons and sometimes the members just get together and hug, laugh and cry.

"I dealt with it in my head, now I'm experiencing it in my heart," said Laurie. "The more difficult is your heart.

"It was a noble story, he died a hero. But in your heart, I'm in the hall playing with his dog looking into his bedroom and tears just come. Then you go into that crazy crying, the embarrassing type."

The dreams are also coming - like the one where David asks Laurie to get him out of the army.

Upstairs in David's tiny room, many of the boxes shipped back from the barracks at Gagetown still remain packed or just piled in a corner.

"The hardest thing that I got out of his boxes was his pillowcase, because I remember his head on that pillowcase. The clothes and items, nothing bothered me except that pillowcase. Because as a mom you put them down to bed and you check on them a thousand times through the night and you see their little head and as he got bigger and bigger, it was a bigger head, but I'd still look in there and check him out."

For Donnie, the nights are a little easier. Out on the water fishing or in the woods - father and son times - are what he struggles with.

"I'm not a dreamer, but I'm just in disbelief," said Donnie, his distant gaze showing the depth of that disbelief.

"I hear heaven is a wonderful place to be," said Laurie, who said the couple's faith is what has gotten them this far.

"I tell his friends to have an amazing life for him."

David's name can be seen in stickers on the back of cars and some 18 people in Saint John carry a tattoo memorializing the 20-year-old.

The tributes and memorials keep coming. One Five O, a group from Saint John High School where David graduated, put out a tribute CD. John Irving and Hans Klohn Jr. provided the red hats for every employee at Strescon and are donating $500 a year for the next 15 years to the David Greenslade Memorial Bursary.

"Thank you," said Laurie. "Thank you."

Inside a small black folder that Laurie rarely lets out of her sight is a journal David asked for, simple blue lines on each page where extraordinary experiences were to be recorded. Barely three of the pages between the black cardboard covers contain David's scribbled words.

Amidst one of the scrawls are the words: "I'm pretty much ready for the worst."

"And he used to have beautiful penmanship," Laurie said in a typical mother's tone.

The journal goes on: "I can't imagine what it's going to be like coming home as a war vet. I guess it's something my kids will look up to."

It also talks about him finding his own June Carter when he returns.

Donnie leaves for a moment and returns to the couch with a mountain of pictures. It's all the couple have left to remember their son by - no June Carter Cash to meet one day or grandchildren to look forward to.

"He loved that movie," Laurie said of Walk the Line, the film about Johnny Cash and his legendary love - June Carter.

Movies were a big part of their son's life. Forrest Gump and When We Were Soldiers topped the list. He knew each one, scene by scene and line by line.

"Maybe some day," Donnie said about watching his son's favourite films without David beside him. "Right now for me, it's too hard. It hits you - my chest tightens right up."

It's a feeling, said Laurie, the couple avoids at all costs.

"I'm trying to not avoid it lately just because it's part of the healing," she said. "You cry and you heal a bit."

Over the winter, the couple bought two motorcycles - black for Donnie and, of course, red for Laurie.

In a shed next door, Donnie uncovers each bike and the single bulb above gently sparkles off the chrome and polished aluminum. An intensely private and quiet man, his thoughts seem to be elsewhere.

"They didn't have any more red ones left," Donnie said.

David's response to his parents rumbling down the highway, said Laurie, would have been simple: "That's nuts! Can I borrow it?"

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greenslade1.jpg - Taken by Noel Chenier

greenslade2.jpg - The members of 22 Bravo pose in front of the LAV they were in when six of them died Easter Sunday, 2007. From left are Pte. Kevin Kennedy, Cpl. Shaun Fevens, Pte. Brennan Leslie, Cpl. Aaron Williams, Cpl. Gregory Robertson, Sgt. Don Lucas, Master Cpl. Brian McCallum, Cpl. Chris Stannix, Cpl. Brent Poland and Pte. David Greenslade. Kennedy, Williams, Lucas, Stannix, Poland and Greenslade died after a roadside bomb exploded near their LAV. The photo was found on Stannix's camera.