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What is a 'rolling memorial'?

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Considered perhaps North America's fastest growing form of commemoration is the 'rolling memorial'. These memorials consist of cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and motorcycles that are especially marked or painted to honour people or commemorate specific events. One of the first rolling memorials appears to be attributed to American Vietnam War veteran Max Loffgrenof in 1995 when after three years of work, he transformed a 1955 Chevrolet into a prisoner of war and missing in action Tribute Car. The dragster car is adorned with the names of the 3,578 Americans who are still unaccounted for in Vietnam from 1952 to 1975. In 2003, John and Amy Holmgren had a similar idea and turned their tractor-trailer into a tribute to those who died in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The tractor unit and semi-trailer is decorated with murals and airbrushed portraits of first responders, a panoramic view of New York with the twin towers, and the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died. The truck is appropriately nicknamed and marked at the rear of the trailer as 'The Rolling Memorial'. These two early examples served as inspiration to others. Parents also wanted to commemorate their sons and daughters who fought and died in wars. For example, Karla Comfort purchased in 2006 a Hummer and had it air brushed with the image of her son, Corporal John M. Homason, and nine other Marines as "a way to pay homage to her hero and his fellow comrades who fell on Iraq’s urban battlefield."

A similar reaction happened in Canada when in 2009, philanthropist Chris Ecklund of Hamilton, Ontario, created the Canadian Heroes Initiative. With an aim to create awareness and support of Canadian fallen soldiers and their families, the organization developed a commemorative design meant to wrap the body of their memorial vehicles. On 17 July 2010, the organization unveiled their first Canadian Heroes race car entry in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, at the Honda Toronto Indy. Five days later, on July 22nd, 'Canadian Heroes Memorial Vehicle #1' (CH#1) received a complete body wrap. During its first seven years, it travelled over 200,000 kilometres across North America, had been at the beginning of parades, taken soldiers to the Daytona 500, and stood guard over countless ceremonies, funerals and other events. In December 2017, the vehicle was donated to John McGrinder, CD for him to carry on her proud traditions and roles across Canada.

Since then, Canadian Heroes have produced a series of other cars, trucks and motorcycles that are either generic or personalized to commemorate a particular fallen. For example, a car was specially designed for military supporter Lise A. Charron in honour of Trooper Jack Bouthillier who, at 20 years of age, was killed in action in Afghanistan on 20 March 2009. As explained by the late Lise Charron (25 May 1958 - 1 July 2018): "During the year 2010, two vehicles displaying 'Canadian Heroes' logos were introduced in Southern Ontario. The presence of these vehicles are very much appreciated in various activities and especially for the repatriation of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. When Corporal Steve Martin died in Afghanistan on 18 December 2010, I had access to one of the two vehicles to attend the funeral which took place in Québec. When returning the vehicle, I expressed my desire to pay tribute to Jack Bouthillier with a decal on my car. Chris Ecklund proposed to sponsor me. In April 2011, the Canadian Heroes wrap on my car was finally completed with the two official languages of our country. In addition, it was the first vehicle of Canadian Heroes project made in honour of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan. I am very grateful to have another way to show my support to our Canadian soldiers and their families. It is possible to see my car in activities for military and veterans." As shown in the composite photograph, Charron's Canadian Heroes Memorial Vehicle was displayed at Wreaths Across Canada's inaugural ceremony at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa on 4 December 2011. In addition to displaying a photograph of Jack Bouthillier in combat uniform, we can identify the badge of his home unit, The Royal Canadian Dragoons based at Garrison Petawawa, Ontario. As attested by Lise Charron, all vehicle owners and volunteers associated with rolling memorials are eager to be part of local and national events that help remember and commemorate their fallen heroes.

On this day, 22 July 2022, we celebrate twelve years since the production of the first Canadian Heroes Memorial Vehicle and commemorate the 13th anniversary of the death of Trooper Jack Bouthillier as well as four years since the passing of Lisa Charron, a staunch supporter of Canadian soldiers and their families.

André M. Levesque

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