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Canada's 157th Afghan casualty travels the Highway of Heroes

The casket of Master Cpl. Francis Roy is carried to a waiting hearse during a repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton, Ont. on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. MCpl. Roy died Saturday of causes not related to combat at a forward operating base in Kandahar.

Peter Redman/The Canadian Press/Peter Redman/The Canadian Press

The mother of a soldier killed two years ago quietly pressed her face to the fence of an airbase on Wednesday as the remains of the latest casualty of the Afghan mission arrived back on Canadian soil.

Clutching a "support-the-troops" poster, Kathy Bulger was among hundreds of people who gathered at CFB Trenton to pay their respects to Master Corporal Francis Roy, many hoping his would be the last death of Canada's combat mission.

"There's no words to describe today - what it's like to be here," said Ms. Bulger, whose last visit to CFB Trenton was to stand on the tarmac and receive the remains of her son, Cpl. Nick Bulger.

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"People don't understand how good the Canadian military is - and what they've done for my family."

Ms. Bulger watched in silence as the ramp of the C-17 transport opened, and an honour guard carried MCpl. Roy, a member of the country's special forces regiment, to the awaiting hearse.

Fellow soldiers found MCpl. Roy, 32, mortally wounded early Saturday at a forward operating base in Kandahar city.

Investigators, who ruled out enemy action, were treating MCpl. Roy's death as a suicide. An autopsy has yet to be performed.

In the twilight days of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, many who came out to pay their respects to the 157th Canadian to die expressed the hope they would not have to make such a trip again.

"It's a sad time, but it could also be joyous knowing that this could be our last [soldier]coming home [dead]" said Mark Allen of Prescott, Ont.

"Next time will be when all our soldiers come home [alive] which would be great."

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As the hearse procession travelled along a stretch of Highway 401 that's been dubbed the Highway of Heroes, hundreds of people lined overpasses, waving flags or other supportive banners.

They waved or simply stood still as the hearse sped beneath them.

While several people said it was important to pay their respects, some were dubious that the days of grim ramp and repatriation ceremonies were over even as Canada's combat mission morphs into a three-year training mission.

"I hope it's the last one but they're still going to be there," George Cross of Brighton, Ont., said on an overpass.

"It's still going to be hazardous, so I'm afraid there might be a few more [deaths]yet."

About 1,500 Canadian troops will stay in Afghanistan - most in the Kabul area - until 2014 as part of a NATO mentoring force.

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All Canada's combat troops, who have spent the past years fighting and dying in the country's violent south, are to be out of the country by the end of next month.

"There'll still be boys over there," said Ms. Bulger, a resident of Buckhorn, Ont.

"And we'll keep sending parcels [to the troops there]"

Ms. Bulger's 30-year-old son died in an improvised explosive device strike almost exactly two years ago, the 121st casualty of the mission.

If MCpl. Roy's death is confirmed as a suicide, he would be the second Canadian soldier to kill himself while deployed in Afghanistan in a month.

The body of Bombardier Karl Manning, 31, a native of Chicoutimi, Que., was found by fellow soldiers at a remote base near Zangabad on May 28.

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