By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
A lasting image in this story: The calendar date.
In this story, March 20 cannot be forgotten.
It has dual significance.
It marks the start and the end of a life.
Cpl. Tyler Crooks, a Port Colborne lad, was born on this day: March 20, 1985.
Cpl. Tyler Crooks was killed on this day, March 20, 2009.
Five years ago. His 24th birthday.
The military’s news release said in part:
“Corporal Tyler Crooks was killed on March 20, 2009, when an improvised explosive device detonated near him during a dismounted patrol in Zhari District, west of Kandahar City.
Cpl. Tyler Crooks was a member of November Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group. His home unit was the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) is the Canadian Forces (CF) contribution to the international effort in Afghanistan. Its operations focus on working with Afghan authorities to improve security, governance and economic development in Afghanistan.”
(The roadside explosive also took the life of another soldier, Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli of Sault Ste. Marie.)
In my retrospective, another lasting image: A newspaper headline.
The Tribune reported it in the front-page banner headline Monday, March 23, 2009: “ ‘Crooksie’ was a hero”
There is also significance to yesterday’s date, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. It marked the official end, after 12 years, to our country’s military involvement in Afghanistan. By one account, 162 Canadian soldiers were killed in that far-off place.
I remember reading not long ago about someone saying: “War is old men talking and young men dying.”
I pray war could stop.
In a column on the first anniversary, it was written that the bomb “brought the reality of war to front doorsteps on Killaly St., and Humboldt Parkway, on Nickel St. and Tennessee Ave; at Lakeshore Catholic and Port Colborne High; at St. Therese and McKay schools and all the others; at west side’s Tim’s and east side’s Dairy Queen.
In times like this, death is all inclusive.
Across the community, people reeled with the realization: One of ours has fallen.
The roadside bomb stole a cherished son, brother, grandson, cousin, future husband and friend to many.”
I’ve not been able to forget them: The death – by all accounts – of a fine young man, and the date and its significance.
It’s not because I knew Cpl. Crooks. I didn’t.
But there was this linkage that drew me to him. One was his age, and how close he was to our son’s age, nephew’s age, neighbourhood kid’s age and others. There was a brotherhood of sorts in this.
And of course because he was a “local boy” – that well-worn descriptor called upon a thousand times if not more during my years at the newspaper:
Local boy does good;
Local boy wins award;
Local boy chosen for scholarship;
Local boy serves as legislative page;
Local boy meets PM
But in this sad case:
Local boy dies a Canadian hero.
Five years on and Cpl. Tyler Crooks is still a local boy and a hero in our hearts, in our memories, in our collection of newspaper clippings and photos. He will remain that way.
Five years on and it is time for remembering again. Will schools on March 20 remember with a pause for silence, will flags in Port Colborne be lowered as a tribute to a local boy who was and is a hero, whose soul is where heroes are, as the poet writes about other soldiers’ deaths:
“And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.
(From Rouge Bouquet, a First World War poem by U.S. soldier/poet Joyce Kilmer in memory of 21 of his comrades killed in action at Rouge Bouquet woods, France, March 7, 1918.)
CAPTION: Cpl. Tyler Crooks was killed in action in Afghanistan, March 20, 2009. Supplied photo.
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)