Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. (DOUG SCHMIDT/The Windsor Star)
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Six weeks into his deployment in dangerous southern Afghanistan in 2010, Cpl. Steve Cunningham of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment was thrust into the role of hero during a hot Canada Day patrol.
Cunningham, a reservist attached to 1 Royal Canadian Regiment on a seven-month tour in an insurgent-infested corner of Kandahar Province, was at the front of a foot patrol returning to a combat outpost following a mission. His sergeant, marching about 15 feet behind him, stepped down on a pressure plate connected to a hidden explosive charge, one that Cunningham had barely missed just seconds earlier.
The blast catapulted Sgt. Bjarne Neilsen, the section leader, high into the air.
“He was blown over a wall, into a farmer’s field of grape rows,” said Cunningham, 22.
The quick action that followed saved the Cambridge man’s life, and Cunningham’s actions were cited Monday night as a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal was pinned to the Amherstburg man’s uniform.
Col. Brock Millman, commanding officer of 31 Canadian Brigade Group, described as “extraordinary” Cunningham’s courage and quick thinking.
Trained in battlefield first aid, Cunningham, who sustained hearing damage and had the air knocked out of his chest, and another comrade vaulted over the wall and began dressing the wounds of their section leader, who suffered a partially amputated leg and arm. Evacuated by air, he lost his leg but survived.
“We’re so proud of his actions that day,” said Cunningham’s mother Lisa, one of a number of family members who attended Monday night’s ceremony at the Tilston Armoury.
Windsor MPs Joe Comartin and Brian Masse were among the dignitaries who helped hand out 16 of the medals commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne.
All the latest Jubilee medal recipients have some military connection, including several veterans of the Second World War.
“I burst into tears, I was so emotional,” said CWO Karen Barnes, a 36-year reservist with the Windsor Regiment. She said she wears her medal “for everyone who does things for their community … to me, this is a very, very big deal.”
Barnes volunteers with seniors and children and spreads her love of music. She said she is most proud of her involvement with the Passing the Torch Committee, aimed at teaching the next generation about the sacrifices of soldiers and the importance of Canada’s military.
James Elliott and Charles Johnston, who both landed on the beach at Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and war-time merchant marine Larry Costello were among the Jubilee honorees.
They and others were thanked for their service, as well as for their efforts at assisting veterans or educating the public on the sacrifices made by those who wear a uniform and are willing to die for their country.
The other latest Jubilee recipients included Andrea Grimes, Amanda Gellman, Dave Woodall, Phil Berthiaume, Bob Kelly and Garney Ryan. The other Essex and Kent Scottish recipients: Cpl. Joe McLeod, MCpl. Renee Mitchell, Sgt. Kyle Ferguson, Sgt. Darren Mangin and Hon. Col. Hardy Wheeler.
“I am so humbled with this honour,” said Grimes, who was cited by Masse for her “outstanding work to raise the profiles of our veterans in the community.”