Public asked to line Highway of Heroes when the body of John Gallagher returns to Canada
Former Canadian Forces member John Gallagher stands at a Peshmerga army base near Kirkuk, Iraq on Thursday May 14, 2015. Gallagher was reportedly killed by Islamic State militants in Syria on Wednesday November 4, 2015. (Postmedia Network)
A Canadian volunteer fighter killed in Syria is headed home — to a hero’s welcome along Highway 401, if a national foundation gets its way.
The Canadian Heroes Foundation is asking Ontarians to line the 401 roadside and highway overpasses between Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Blenheim, along Highway 401, when the body of John Gallagher, a Southwestern Ontarian killed in an ISIS suicide attack while fighting with Kurdish forces, is returned home as early as the end of this week.
Similar tributes paid to Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan have made a stretch of the 401 between Trenton, home to a Canadian air base where soldiers’ bodies are returned, and Toronto, known as the ‘Highway of Heroes.’
Valerie Carder of Wheatley said the body of her 32-year-old son, killed by an ISIS gunman Nov. 4, is tentatively scheduled to arrive in Montreal Thursday. From there he will be taken to Toronto, before being transported to Chatham-Kent.
Gallagher, who was retired from the Canadian military, left for Syria earlier this year to volunteer with the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, in their fight against ISIS.
Carder said she’s learned her son’s body had been transported from Syria to Iraq and is now in Amman, Jordan, in preparation for the flight to Canada.
“Foreign Affairs has taken care of all the arrangements to get him back to Canada,” she said Tuesday. “They’ve been very supportive.”
Carder also credits the work of the Canadian Heroes Foundation in making the arrangements for her son to receive a hero’s welcome home.
Brent Schriner, a member of the Canadian Heroes Foundation, said the group’s founder, Chris Ecklund, has been working almost daily on Gallagher’s return since learning of the former Chatham-Kent man’s death.
Since Gallagher was serving as a volunteer when he was killed, and not a member of the Canadian military, he is not entitled to a full-blown military repatriation, Schriner said.
“So, that’s why we’re stepping up as Canadian Heroes, and a lot of other veterans’ groups and associations, to make sure he gets the respect that’s due.”
Members of Canadian Heroes have been part of every repatriation since the group was founded in 2009, but when it comes to organizing one, Schriner said, “John’s the first in this situation . . . and hopefully the last.”
He added: “A mother of a fallen soldier turned to our founder and said, ‘Chris, don’t let my son be forgotten,’ and that’s where we were born from.”
Schriner said being able to organize the repatriation for Gallagher “means a lot to us,” but said the foundation isn’t looking for recognition.
“We just want to make sure the family is looked after,” he said. “We’ll do the best, respectfully, for the family and for John.”
Schriner said more details about the repatriation will be made known when they’re available.
Carder said she’s been touched by expressions of condolences and admiration for her son from the Kurdish community, from military veterans and from Canadian citizens.
“It’s pretty overwhelming to see the kind of support that has been forthcoming,” she said, adding:
“it’s really gratifying to see that people are reading what he wrote and thinking about his ideas concerning the fight against Islamic State.
“That is really, really important to me that his voice is being heard in terms of what he thought was important,” she added. “I think that helps to make this less meaningless.”
Carder said she doesn’t believe she or her daughters have completely processed what’s happened yet. “It’s all pretty surreal,” she said.
Welcoming home a hero
- While the exact time and date is still being worked out, the Canadian Heroes Foundation has the route planned for the repatriation of former Wheatley resident John Robert Gallagher when his body is returned to Canada.
- Canadian Heroes is asking people to line the bridges and roadway on Highway 401 between Pearson International Airport in Toronto and Highway 40 in Chatham-Kent.
- People are encouraged to wave Canadian flags and bring messages of support.
- Preliminary funeral arrangements have been made at the Blenheim Community Funeral Home.
- A public memorial ceremony is also planned to be held in Toronto at a later date.