Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boomer's legacy forever enshrined in song

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 12, 2008


As a boy growing up in Europe, Eric Macdonald once enjoyed a family picnic that included a romp through fields speckled red with poppies.

He knew even then that those fields in Flanders covered sacred soil.

His mother often recited a poem commemorating victims of a war now all but faded from living memory.

The Great War ended 90 years ago, the Second World War ended 63 years ago, the Korean War ended 55 years ago.

Canadian involvement in the war in Afghanistan is about to mark its seventh full year with no peace on the horizon.

The casualties in the current conflict have been mercifully few compared to the slaughters of the previous century.

So far, 97 Canadian warriors and one diplomat have been killed serving in the Afghanistan mission. Their names reflect the nation in whose name they fought - Doyle and Downey, Leger and Levesque, Gomez and Goddard, Hayakaze and Karigiannis, Klumpenhouwer and Eykelenboom.

Eykelenboom. Mr. Macdonald knew the name when he read it in the newspaper dropped on his porch. The family lived just around the corner from his home in Comox on Vancouver Island. On a warm August morning two years ago, the war came home to the neighbourhood.

Corporal Andrew James Eykelenboom, a medic with the 1st Field Ambulance, based in Edmonton, known by his comrades as Boomer, was killed in a suicide attack while travelling in a convoy in southern Afghanistan. He was the 27th Canadian killed in the conflict. He had been due to come home in a week. He was 23.

About 500 mourners, including the province's lieutenant-governor, gathered in a church for the funeral service for the first Canadian medic killed since the Korean War.

The family launched a foundation called Boomer's Legacy. It brings books, medical supplies and warm clothing to women and children in Afghanistan.

In the weeks after the death, Mr. Macdonald spent time at the family's home, reading letters sent by a son in a war zone to parents back home. The missives were so descriptive Mr. Macdonald began to feel as though he knew a land few Canadians had ever visited.

"A lot of the stories he told me - "Mr. Macdonald paused to correct himself. "That his mother recounted - showed the humanitarian aspect of the work, the medical care he would give to the villagers."

The visits with the Eykelenbooms also unveiled a harsh truth.

"I could see that his parents were really, really suffering," he said.

Mr. Macdonald, 56, is an administrator at St. Joseph's General Hospital. He is the son of a Second World War bomber pilot and the grandson of a Great War officer. When not at work, he writes and performs music with the Many Waters Band. (The phrase "many waters" can be found both in the Book of Revelation and in the Song of Solomon.) He decided to write a song in honour of a fallen neighbour.

He cast his memory back to his childhood, frolicking on a peaceful field where earlier carnage could only be imagined.

The song debuted at a performance by the band at a restaurant called The Grotto in nearby Courtenay. Hans and Maureen Eykelenboom attended, their first night out since their son's death.

A year ago, Mr. Macdonald's song was recorded and produced in a studio at the local home of Andy Lorimer, a former keyboardist with the classic rock band Prism.

A haunting vocal was captured in the session, as the band's Katie Lamont Kippel brought to the song her own knowledge of the war-torn land. When he first presented it to her, she said, "I can really sing this song knowing the beauty of the place and its people." Mr. Macdonald had not known his bandmate had spent time in Afghanistan.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1970, Ms. Lamont Kippel spent her childhood travelling with parents involved in the Canadian foreign service. While living in Pakistan, the family took holiday trips through the Khyber Pass to visit Kabul in the years shortly before the Soviet invasion.

On one of those visits, Ms. Lamont Kippel posed with an Afghan trader at a market.

The man offered to trade his daughter for what he presumed, because of a pixie cut, to be a boy. The offer was gracefully declined.

Last Remembrance Day, friends and family gathered at Boomer's grave. A pastor recited a chapter from Isaiah. Soldiers recited In Flanders Fields. Many Waters performed Kandahar Fields.

"Mend the walls that are broken, dig the wells again, plant the fields for harvest, sown with seeds for peace," Ms. Lamont Kippel sang.

"And lay down, lay down, lay down in the Kandahar fields."

Soon after, she suffered a recurrence of cancer. The mother of two young daughters died this March, aged 37.

Her band put down their instruments, too heartbroken to perform.

They returned to the studio only in recent days.

On Remembrance Day, Mr. Macdonald once again visited the Eykelenbooms.

He was joined by several of Boomer's medic friends. They are slightly older than their previous visit. Their fallen comrade will be forever 23.

To download Kandahar Fields, go to

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