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Canada hosts ceremony in U.S. for Americans killed in Afghanistan

Officials and family members look on during solemn ceremony honouring the more than 40 American military personnel killed in Afghanistan under Canadian command at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. on Thursday May 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexander Panetta

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Officials and family members look on during solemn ceremony honouring the more than 40 American military personnel killed in Afghanistan under Canadian command at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. on Thursday May 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexander Panetta

WASHINGTON - Familiar, haunting sights and sounds were transplanted Thursday to a different place and time.

The funereal bagpipes' Lament. The plaques of dead soldiers.

The sad notes that were played in Afghanistan every time a Canadian soldier died; the somber stone memorial that stood for years near the cafeteria at the Kandahar base _ both were on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., between the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

The Canadian embassy hosted a tribute to the American soldiers who died under Canadian command in Afghanistan. More than 40 U.S. soldiers were killed in Kandahar province while the Canadian Forces led the mission there.

Soldiers' families sat during moments of silence, speeches, and a wreath-laying ceremony in the embassy courtyard.

An ex-commander of the Canadian Joint Operation Command called the Canada-US military relationship unique in the world. Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare listed a number of positive changes he said the soldiers had brought to Afghanistan.

"They achieved everything they were sent to do," he told the families.

"What were the costs? Long absences from home. Lost teammates, buddies, moms and dads, daughters, brothers and sisters. Wounds - physical and not."

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and the vice-chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Admiral James Winnefeld, also attested to the closeness of the relationship.

When it was over, one military mom was asked whether she wanted to remove the name tag for entering the event and she said, no, she wanted to keep it on.

Chrystyna Kestler said she knew early on that her little boy would someday be a cowboy, or a soldier. She said he became both, as a member of the cavalry.

Joseph Theinert of Sag Harbor, N.Y., was killed on June 4, 2010, three months into his first Afghan tour. He was a 24-year-old platoon leader. Kestler said it wasn't especially sadness that she felt during Thursday's event.

"I was more overwhelmed with gratitude that people still remember, and that Canada was honouring all the fallen in such a beautiful day," she said.

She said her family worked on a non-profit in her son's memory, dedicated to helping veterans and handing out scholarships.

"You have to weave the tragedy into your life," Kestler said. "It has to be part of the quilt of your life, while your life has to move forward. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be honouring Joe."

A handful of her relatives came to the event and she said more planned to head to Canada to see the memorial cenotaph, which has plaques engraved in stone for Theinert and his fellow Americans, alongside the fallen Canadians. The memorial is currently in the U.S. as part of its ongoing tour.

Canada lost 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors during the conflict.

The Afghan ambassador to the U.S. thanked both countries for their sacrifice.

Eklil Ahmad Hakimi said his country was a better place, as a result. He listed a series of initiatives, including a major Canadian-funded dam project that he said had employed 10,000 people in Kandahar.

"There are more opportunities for Afghan children to attend school - especially girls," Hakimi said.

"There are advances in democracy, human rights and women's rights."

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