Thousands gathered on overpasses along the Highway of Heroes to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.

Warrant Officer Robert John Wilson, left, Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, centre, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros, right, are seen in this image released by the Department of National Defence.

CTV.ca | Thousands greet fallen soldiers on Highway of Heroes


Thousands of people gathered late Monday afternoon along the Highway of Heroes to pay tribute to three fallen soldiers whose bodies were being transported to Toronto.

The soldiers -- Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, Warrant Officer Robert John Wilson and Pte. Demetrios Diplaros -- died in Afghanistan last week when their armoured vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.

Their deaths brought Canada's total military losses in Afghanistan to 100.

The motorcade included 17 black cars carrying the bodies of the soldiers and their families.

Traffic along the highway was blocked so that the military procession could pass through.

Police officers and other emergency personnel stopped on each overpass with their car lights flashing to honour the soldiers. Dozens of families also stopped to wave Canadian flags as a show of respect to the dead and their mission in Afghanistan.

"They remind me of my own family, my own kids," said one woman dressed in red and white, standing on the Brock Street overpass in Whitby. "It could be my own kids out there."

Britany Lemick, who was also standing on the overpass, said she was there to pay tribute to a "great family."

"(The McLarens) are just a great family. He was someone who really believed in helping others. I can't remember ever seeing him without a smile on their face. They were very close," said the family friend. "He was a wonderful person and I'm honoured to have known him."

The crowds that gather along the highway have become an iconic part of the repatriation process, and with the added poignancy of the grim 100-death mark, thousands were expected to pay their respects today.

The soldiers' remains were loaded on a military plane Monday morning at Kandahar Airfield in a solemn ramp ceremony. The plane touched down at CTB-Trenton, Ont. around 2 p.m. ET.

The families of the three soldiers from 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based out of Petawawa, Ont. were in attendance, along with Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. W.J. Natynczk.

From the base, the remains were transported along the 'Highway of Heroes', the stretch of the 401 highway between Trenton and Toronto.

'Band of brothers'

Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said last week the three soldiers "were killed instantly" when their armoured vehicle was struck by a large IED.

They were members of the Task Force Kandahar Operational Mentor and Liaison Team.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier said at times of loss, the military "band of brothers" comes together to mourn and support its members.

He told CTV's Canada AM on Monday that the milestone of 100 deaths is blown out of proportion by the media.

"Truthfully for the soldiers, their families, those that are engaged, that number is meaningless," Hillier said.

"The number one is what's important. Each family has lost one -- a husband, a son, a father, a brother or in the case of Nichola Goddard a wife or daughter, and that's what's important to them."

Despite the rising death toll, Hillier said the mission is still valuable, and Canadian soldiers "remain committed to the cause, believing there is a nugget of a cause there and they should be there to desperately help those who desperately need some help."

He said the mission is difficult, complex and progress is painfully slow, but there is progress.

"And I think what is most visible is the building of the Afghan security forces, the Afghan National Army, which is really moving along well," Hillier said.

So is 100 just part of the job or does that amount of lost soldiers have an effect on your view of the mission.... or has your view remained the same either way?