In a room of dignitaries and political leaders gathered for a black-tie gala to benefit the families of fallen soldiers, a Cape Breton boy stole the show.
Three years after an Afghan insurgent attacked him with an axe, leaving him close to death, Captain Trevor Greene was an honoured guest at the fundraiser in downtown Toronto Tuesday night, and called on the crowd to support the families of troops who are injured or killed.
"They need money. The wounded soldiers and the families need help," he said in halting, soft speech, the hand of his fiancée on his shoulder and a microphone close to his mouth. Applause broke out after each careful, determined sentence. He recalled getting a new assignment from his general after his devastating injury.
"He said, 'Get better, we'll help you. We make these Canadian Forces, and walk shoulder to shoulder with me all the way,' " Capt. Greene said, as the Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, looked on.
"General, it's my intent to walk into your office some day, shake your hand, and say mission accomplished, sir."
After its heartfelt conclusion, the speech - which came before addresses from dignitaries such as Prince Charles (a recorded video address) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper - was met with a standing ovation.
"When he paused in there, you could hear a pin drop," said Captain Kevin Schamuhn, who led Capt. Greene's platoon on the day of the attack and joined him on stage last night. "There's a weird emotional awe around him. ... He is the real deal."
Capt. Greene, who was born in Sydney, N.S., spoke at the inaugural gala for the True Patriot Love Foundation, which supports the families of Canadian soldiers through the Military Families Fund, founded two years ago by former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier.
Outside, Capt. Greene, 44, admitted he was a bit jittery in front of the well-heeled crowd, but was there on business.
"I want to convince them of the need of the combat troops that are injured, the desperation of the family," he told The Globe and Mail. "Families need help."
In March, 2006, Capt. Greene was in a community meeting with village elders, at which he and a colleague removed their helmets as a sign of respect. A villager stormed in and attacked the group, splitting Capt. Greene's head open with an axe.
It's a story he's recounted several times, including to his 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Grace.
"She wanted to know about the bad man who hit me, [asking]over and over," he said. A year ago, he and his fiancée, Debbie Lepore, decided to tell her. "A bad man hit me on the head. He was confused," Capt. Greene, still anxious to help the Afghan people, told his daughter.
His rehabilitation continues - "I call it a marathon of baby steps" - as he and Ms. Lepore, who met in 2001, prepare to get married next July. In the meantime, he's been busy, having accepted a medal on Monday from Governor General Michaëlle Jean, whom he found "warm and compassionate." Today, he'll speak to high school students in west Toronto.
He and Capt. Schamuhn said they hope the True Patriot Love Foundation, which raised $2-million Tuesday night, will succeed in supporting the families of injured soldiers, and both were happy to share their stories.
"I've always found it therapeutic to get the message out there," Capt. Schamuhn said, adding with a grin: "It helps when your audience is like the one out there."