a soldier's story

A friend and I had a few confusing moments last week when I was sick. Stricken with laryngitis and self-loathing, I agreed to most all things and really wasn’t listening to anything at all. She is a very good person who apparently offered to purchase a new book for me at a book reading featuring Journal writer Liane Faulder and the man she was writing about, Canadian soldier and medic Master Cpl. Paul Franklin.

(The reading was less of a reading and more of a staged interview, which makes me wonder if Faulder could return from her Massey College fellowship next year to a talk show of her own. I suggest it be called, “Faulder!” Exclamation point necessary.)

Anyway, I apparently asked for the book, The Long Walk Home, and regardless of whether this conversation actually occurred, my friend got it for me.

Very good for me, turns out.

Ever since Faulder did a full feature on Franklin last year -- correction, ever since I first heard she was working on a book about his experiences -- I have wanted to read it. The soldier’s humility aside, he is a war hero. Simple as that. And he is probably the most recognizable face of Edmonton’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan.

So is his wife, Audra. She always seemed so available to the media, so tough and clear-headed. Faulder had unusual access to their family life in the year after Franklin’s G-Wagon was attacked.

I first encountered Franklin last summer at a military funeral for Pte. Robert Costall. It was frankly impossible not to stare as his wife helped him out of a wheelchair so he could stand on his artificial legs for as long as everyone else did.

It looked bloody painful. The soldier looked like a man who was going to stand through the pain, because that was the least he could do in memory of his fallen comrade.

Forget your feelings about war in general and war in Afghanistan specifically. How can you not respect a man like Paul Franklin?

How can you not cry, just a little bit, for his little boy?

Faulder’s book is, hands-down, a must-read. There are whole chapters wherein I felt like I was in Afghanistan myself, and experiencing the suicide bomb that killed a Canadian diplomat and ripped one of Franklin’s legs from his body.

That’s just good, detailed writing, very much in the clear and straightforward style of newspaper features or magazines. There is no faction here.

At the very start, Faulder goes out of her way to say this is not a story of Canada’s contribution to Afghanistan, but I would argue it really, really is.

Yes, it is one man’s story.

But this is a story, I believe, that will stand the test of time. It speaks to how Canadians thought about this war, how it, perhaps, took us by surprise. How we were all so naïve to think we could go to war after Sept. 11, 2001, without suffering any casualties.

It also reflects Edmonton’s story. I have lived in this city for two years now, and would argue the story of a slowly growing military -- the story of a clearly over-exerted force -- is very real in this city’s streets and in its Tim Hortons outlets. I am the granddaughter of a military family, and I know that Edmonton has always been home to the armed forces. Faulder writes it as such. She tells us about people who want to stop Paul Franklin on the street and tell him he’s done his country proud -- I know, I sound just a little bit like the fifth grader I once was, who won prizes (and cash) for her essays on war heroism. Can’t help it.

“I didn’t fight off ten Taliban or charge a trench with a bayonet. My heroism has, in a sense, been here in Canada as I try to recover.” (Franklin said.)
He believed anybody could be a hero…. “It’s tenacity and strength of character that saves your butt,” he said.
(p. 141)

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