Piano Dedication Ceremony
It was one of the most emotional events imaginable as Marc Leger's parents made their way through the halls of Glengarry District High School, lined on both side by our students. The sound of our student pipers leading them along made this moment particularly stirring. There were many tears as we all shared in the recognition that one of our own had lost his life in a foreign conflict.
The event was the dedication of our newly refurbished grand piano which had originally been donated by the student council, in memory of their classmates who lost their lives in WW1 and WW2. Marc Leger's name had been added to the commemorative, bronze plaque, on the side of the piano.
The ceremony tugged at everyone's heart strings as our students played the fiddle accompanied by Elizabeth Caddell on the grand piano. We all listened intently as Mr. and Mrs. Leger recounted memories of their son's years at GDHS and thanked us for creating a permanent memory of their son. They donated a framed picture of "King Marco" and the story of how he gained that title during peacekeeping operations abroad. The picture and the story now hold a prominent place in a display case in our school hallway.
The dedication of the piano was an incredibly rare moment at GDHS which no one who attended will ever forget.
Tribute to "King Marco"
Kandahar, Afghanistan (CP) April 2002
Sgt. Marc (King Marco) Léger, of Lancaster, was one of four Canadians killed Wednesday, when an U.S. F-16 fighter dropped a bomb on members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during a live-fire exercise in Afghanistan. Maj. Shane Schreiber, who serves in another unit of the Canadian Forces in Kandahar, wrote this tribute the day after Léger’s death:
I had the pleasure of having worked with Sgt. Léger for two years when I commanded A Company (parachute). He was a soldier of rare skill, compassion, and intellect.
My most vivid memory of then, Master Cpl. Léger was during our tour in Bosnia in 2000. By that time, most of the international aid agencies had abandoned Bosnia for more exciting missions elsewhere, but the need was greater than ever because of the return of large numbers of displaced persons to their war-destroyed homes (and lives).
Master Cpl. Léger had been given a particularly difficult area of responsibility (AOR) in a place called the Livno Valley. Here, Serbs who had been ethnically cleansed by their Croat neighbours were returning to shattered homes and destroyed lives. Despite the fact that it was beyond our mandate, Master Cpl. Léger felt that he had to do something to help these people: to him, it made no sense that he was enforcing a peace that kept these people living like refugees in their own homes.
He began by doing little things, like constantly harassing his company commander (me) for resources to help these people. He took leftover and thrown-away building supplies, and distributed these on patrol. He snuck food from the camp kitchen, and spirited off the camp water truck when no one was looking. The more he found to help with, the more he needed, as those villagers he was helping told their friends to return home, that the Canadians would help them. Soon, a shattered village began to rebuild.
The Livno valley became Master Cpl. Léger’s adopted home. He lived in the camp with the rest of us, but his heart and mind was always with "his" people stuck in the bombed-out houses among mine-strewn fields. He could not accept that humanitarian aid agencies had simply left these people to fend for themselves. He began to badger the local UNHCR representative, and any aid agency that drove through the area was stopped by Master Cpl. Léger and given a lecture on the conditions and requirements for assistance.
Finally, I explained to Master Cpl. Léger that to get any resources from UNHCR or any other aid agency, he was going to have to get their attention, and the only way to get their attention was to get the locals to appoint a mayor to plead their case directly. Seizing on the idea, Master Cpl. Léger organized a town hall meeting with his people. He explained the realities and the requirements, and explained the need to choose a leader, a spokesperson. Unanimously, they chose him.
Amused, he explained that he could not act as their spokesperson; he was a Canadian soldier - not a Bosnian politician. He explained the foreign concept of an election, and they all agreed that this was an excellent way to choose a new mayor. Again, Master Cpl. Léger was the unanimous choice.
Less amused and more concerned, Master Cpl. Léger explained in detail that the mayor had to be one of them. He was ineligible.
Finally, after much good-natured teasing and a quick lesson on the concept of democratic election theory done through a bemused translator, the locals chose their mayor.
But they immediately became a constitutional monarchy when, again by unanimous decision, they named Master Cpl. Léger their king.
King Marco was to become Master Cpl. Léger’s lasting title, both in the Livno Valley, and within the Parachute Company.
In his advocacy for the plight of the Livno Valley, King Marco became the irresistible force that eventually wore away the immovable rocks of misunderstanding and apathy. Eventually, he became a spokesperson for returnees throughout the Canadian AOR, and his passion and his commitment made him an eloquent representative.
I used to love to bring VIPs, like our British divisional commander, the American three-star commander of SFOR, or the Canadian ambassador of Rodonovici, to the Livno Valley for Master Cpl. Léger to brief. His forthright manner and common sense solutions made converts of them all, and I watched with pride as he stickhandled every question until even the most sceptical became his supporters.
Eventually, with the support of the battle group commanding officer, Lt-Col. Dave Barr, and the Canadian ambassador, a deal was struck that gave Léger (and other equally dedicated master corporals) the resources required to help Bosnians help themselves.
Master Cpl. Léger’s proudest day of the tour was when the first red-tile roof went up in the Livno Valley, reversing a 10-year cycle of destruction and despair. King Marco had brought hope back to the Livno Valley.
I don’t know what the Livno Valley looks like today. King Marco’s empire may have returned to ruins, although I doubt that, as King Marco was as diligent in his succession as he was in his rule, something few rulers ever strive for or manage to achieve. I do know that for many, his compassion was truly and deeply heroic, and added to his already tall stature as a leader and soldier.
For his work in the Livno Valley, Sgt. Léger was deservedly awarded a Chief of Defence Staff Commendation last year. He didn’t think that he had done anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done, and that many hadn’t already done (but then, heroes seldom do think much of their efforts or achievements).
What I find incredible is that Sgt. Léger was not all that different from every other trooper in my company. What I find even more surprising is how an institution as publicly maligned and neglected as the Canadian army can continue to consistently attract and retain guys like Marc Léger. As historian Jack Granatstein had said of another Canadian army at another time, it is probably a better organization than the people of Canada know or deserve. Marc Léger, and his fellow soldiers are, as the Prime Minister has already said, "the best face of Canada." He was a hero, and we should all take our lead from his spirit and his actions.
The King is Dead. Long Live the King.