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As the Casualty Administration Officer for the Canadian Forces, Captain Wayne Johnston ensures the timely and dignified return of soldiers who die in Afghanistan. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
As the Casualty Administration Officer for the Canadian Forces, Captain Wayne Johnston ensures the timely and dignified return of soldiers who die in Afghanistan. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

War and Remembrance

His work begins when a Canadian soldier's life ends in Afghanistan Add to ...

In a further collision of circumstance, Kieran Johnston belongs to Lt. Boyes's battalion, the Edmonton-based 3rd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and will serve as an escort at his funeral today in Saskatoon. As such, he will help finish what his father started 10 days ago, a task the elder Johnston has performed day and night, on weekends and over Christmas, during 14 months on the job.

"We call it a bell-ringer," says Capt. Johnston, a burly and gregarious bald-headed man with a snow-white handlebar mustache. He suffered a torn heart valve while serving with the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia in 2004, which explains why he now rides a desk.

His current role would appear every bit as heart-rending, as would his "hobby" running WoundedWarriors.ca, a charity he founded to help injured soldiers. Still, Capt. Johnston insists these things have only done him good.

"This job has been the most difficult emotionally, but let me tell you, it's been good for my soul," he says. "It makes you love your wife. It makes you appreciate what you've got a lot more."

For starters, he's got Kieran's visits home to anticipate. Their father-son bond has been drawn a bit tighter by their common occupation, its perils notwithstanding.

There are trips to the Whitby, Ont., cenotaph every Nov. 11, where friends always greet him, though they can't see the medals stashed in his pocket, his great-uncle's from the First World War.

On those dark, predawn mornings, there are breakfasts with his wife, Clare, no matter how ungodly the hour, and her kisses to send him out the door.

And on repatriation days in Trenton, there is time to unwind on the drive home to Brooklin, where Clare, a nice dinner, a bottle of wine and his pristine '66 Mustang await.

Home is toward Toronto, but Capt. Johnston won't take the 401, the Highway of Heroes. Not now; hopefully not ever.

"I have a son in the Forces," he says.

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