Canada bids final farewell to 'Smokey' Smith
CTV.ca News Staff
Canadian war hero Sgt. Ernest "Smokey" Smith was remembered at his funeral Saturday as a "loyal comrade in arms" and a "remarkable national hero" by Defence Minister Bill Graham.
"To generations of Canadians, Smokey stood for courage and resolve at a time of great need -- a testament to his tremendous strength of character and his commitment to this country," Graham said in a eulogy.
At a Vancouver memorial service, a military chaplain said the week of mourning to mark the death of Canada's last Victoria Cross recipient has been overwhelming.
"This has been a time of tears and a time of laughter, a time of celebration and a time of mourning, a time of story telling and a time of lament,'' said Rev Jim Short, senior chaplain to British Columbia-based 39 Brigade Group.
Earlier Saturday, Smith's flag-draped coffin made its way through Vancouver's downtown on a vintage gun carriage. Thousands of people lined the streets to pay their last respects to Smith, who died 10 days ago at the age of 91.
The military procession was the largest this country has seen since the death of First World War flying ace Billy Bishop in 1956.
With its military escort of 225 soldiers, the parade of family, dignitaries and veterans stretched more than two kilometres from the Seaforth Highlanders Armoury along Burrard Street to St. Andrew's Wesley United Church.
As Smith's coffin crossed the Burrard Street Bridge, a group of CF-18 jets performed the Missing Man formation above the ceremony to mark the loss of a comrade.
Eight pallbearers dressed in the tartan kilts of the Seaforth Highlanders carried Smith's coffin into the church. Those standing outside broke into applause.
Inside St. Andrew's, the commanding officer of his regiment said Smith should not just be remembered for his bravery in battle, but also for his life as a husband and father after the war.
"All Canadians have lost a great Canadian hero," said Lt.-Col. Rob Roy MacKenzie.
Smith's last request was to be buried at sea and on Sunday, his ashes will be committed to the sea during a private service aboard HMCS Ottawa.
The Commonwealth's highest award for bravery, Smith was given the medal for fighting off a group of German tanks and soldiers in Italy.
Smith was credited with single-handedly turning the tide of that October 1944 battle when his Seaforth Highlanders were selected to establish a bridgehead across the Savio River.
Because heavy rains had made it impossible for tanks to traverse the river's muddy banks, Smith took it upon himself to establish the bridgehead.
If it were me I would have just marked him down on my Mental Midgets list and moved on.