Family members of eight Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan gathered Saturday to say their goodbyes at the main NATO base in Kandahar.
Loved ones of Cpl. Jamie Murphy, M-Cpl. Allan Stewart, Trooper Michael Hayakaze, Capt. Richard Steven Leary, Pte. Michael Freeman, Pte. Garrett William Chidley, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and Cpl. Joshua Baker attended a next-of-kin memorial at Kandahar Airfield.
Family members received a personal thank you from Afghan National Army Col. Fazel Habibi, who gave each a plaque and a special flag in honour of Canada's role in Afghanistan.
"I know it's too difficult for you that you lost your loved ones here but they have done a great job here and they have brought peace and security," Mr. Habibi said through a translator at the ceremony.
He added that the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan will go down in the country's history.
"Future generations of Afghans will remember their names and remember their help," Mr. Habibi said. "They will never forget."
Mr. Habibi also made a plea to the visiting families.
"Please let Canadians know that Afghans still need your help," he said.
Mr. Murphy, 26, of Conception Harbour, N.L., died in January 2004 in a suicide bomb attack.
Mr. Stewart, 31, of Newcastle, N.B., died in April 2007 from a roadside bomb.
Mr. Hayakaze, 25, of Edmonton died from an improvised explosive device in March 2008.
Mr. Leary, 32, of Brantford, Ont., died in June 2008 during an insurgent attack in the Panjwaii district south of Kandahar city.
Mr. Freeman, 28, from Peterborough, Ont., died in December 2008 from an IED.
Mr. Chidley, 21, of Cambridge, Ont., died in December 2009 from an IED.
Mr. Taylor, 28, of Yarmouth, N.S., died in December 2009 from an IED blast.
And Mr. Baker, 24, of Edmonton, Alta., died Feb. 12 in a training accident in Kandahar city.
Family members placed wreaths by the soldiers' plaques at the memorial at Task Force Kandahar headquarters. These were accompanied by family photos and goodbye letters which were later burned at the site as a way of saying goodbye.
Padre Andre Gauthier expressed profound sorrow for the losses.
"Our loved one has died but they are forever and always a living and loving part of who we are," he told the family members.
"This being said, we don't get over the death of a loved one; we get through it, one moment, one hour, one day, one week, one hurt at a time."
The families declined comment on their visit.
The memorials are held almost monthly at the headquarters of Canada's Task Force Kandahar, offering family members a chance to visit the base and see a marble memorial to Canadian troops.
Since 2002, 152 members of the Canadian Forces have died as part of the mission to Afghanistan.
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