Saturday, November 12, 2011

Canadian Ramp Ceremony & Americans at Dover

When an American serviceman is killed in combat in a foreign country, their remains are taken to a medical facility in Germany for an autopsy and then flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they are returned to their family or buried at a military cemetery like Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

All we are asking for is that the 13 men of the Intrepid be treated like any other American soldier or sailor killed in action, and that they too be given an autopsy at a military base in Europe and returned home via Dover AFB before being given a proper burial with military honors.

At the time of the war with Iraq, President Bush banned the photographing or reporting on the return of the dead at Dover, so there was a total blackout for quite sometime, until it was decided to allow the families of the dead to decide if they wanted photographs taken.

Canadians, who have also been involved in operations in Afghanistan and Libya, have what they call a "Ramp Ceremony" whenever the remains of a dead serviceman is returned home.

When the casket of a Canadian soldier is removed from a plane, everyone in the area stops whatever it is they are doing, stands at attention and salutes as the casket is unloaded. Sometimes a bagpipe plays "Amazing Grace" an anthem or similar song.

If you Google "Canadian Ramp Ceremony" videos you can see one for yourself or go here:

I first learned of the Canadian Ramp Ceremony from a radio interview with Canadian singer-songweriter Bruce Cockburn, who performed for troops in Afghanistan two years ago, and experienced a Ramp Ceremony on his return, an experience that inspired him to write a song about it.

Each One Lost (Camden East 13/09/09) -Bruce Cockburn: "On the way into Kandahar Airfield from Ottawa, our little group spend a few hours at Camp Mirage, a Canadian staging base in the Middle East. As we were about to board our next plane, we found ourselves part of a Ramp Ceremony, honouring the remains of two young Canadian Forces members who had been killed that day and were being sent home. One of the saddest and most moving scenes I've ever been privileged to witness...this song is dedicated to the memory of Major Yannick P├ępin and Corporal Jean-Francois Drouin."


Under the big lights
shadows stretching long
the ramp is lowered gently to the tarmac
and all of us, we wait
in this sea of gravity
for the precious cargo to appear

Here come the dead boys
moving slowly past
the pipes and prayers and strained commanding voices
and the tears in our hearts
make an ocean we're all in
all in this together don't you know

You can die on your sofa
safe inside your home
or die in a mess of flame and shrapnel
we all in our time go
you know you're not alone
you're in the hearts of everybody here
Each one lost
is everyone's loss you see
each one lost is a vital part of you and me
Some would have us bow
in bondage to their dreams
of little gods who lay down laws to live by
but all these inventions
arise from fear of love
and open-hearted tolerance and trust

Well screw the rule of law
we want the rule of love
enough to fight and die to keep it coming
if that sounds like confusion
brother think again
we know exactly what we chose
Each one lost
is everyone's loss you see
each one lost is a vital part of you and me

The term "ramp ceremony" has, since about 2005 and during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, come to have a particular meaning - that of a solemn memorial ceremony for a coalition soldier killed in a war zone. The ceremony usually takes place at an airfield near or in a war zone, where an airplane is usually waiting nearby to take the soldier's remains to his or her home country.[20] A ramp ceremony is not an actual funeral; the funeral is usually conducted in the deceased's home country.

Ramp ceremony inspires new Cockburn song
By BRIAN SHYPULA, Staff Reporter

Bruce Cockburn wrote the angry anthem "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" in the early '80s after visiting Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that had been attacked by Guatemalan military helicopters.

The emotion of a ramp ceremony for two Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in September also inspired a song from the social and political activist-performer. It will be on his new album next year, but he's already performing it on his current tour, which stops in Stratford this Saturday.

The 64-year-old was part of the Team Canada delegation that visited and performed for Canadian troops at Kandahar two months ago. At the stopover at a Canadian Forces base en route, the team members found themselves on the tarmac as the coffins of two Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan were being off-loaded from a flight from Kandahar. The delegation, which included Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, joined the ramp ceremony.

"It was a very sombre and beautiful and sad ceremony, very touching," Mr. Cockburn said in a recent phone interview.

The peace activist, who supports Canada's mission in Afghanistan, spoke about his experiences in the war zone.

Joining Team Canada gave him the chance to see first-hand what his younger brother, Capt. John Cockburn, a doctor in the Canadian Forces at the hospital at Kandahar airfield, has told him about Afghanistan.

"We went outside the wire and did some of the forward operating bases," he said. "Before doing that we got a really revolting first-aid briefing on what to do in the event of an attack and someone getting injured."

They were shown graphic photos of wounds and given briefings on IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from the soldiers whose job it is to defuse the roadside bombs.

Mr. Cockburn said Team Canada was given the "official" word on Canada's mission, but the members were free to speak to the soldiers, something he really enjoyed and that helped him form his opinion.

The soldiers' morale is high, and their message is "very clear" that they don't want to pull out of Afghanistan before their job is done, he said.

"There was absolutely no griping."

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