A Reluctant Hero

Save for the Victoria Cross and the Star of Valour, the Medal of Military Valour is the highest honour a Canadian soldier can receive. A reluctant hero, Cpl. Tony Harris just joined an exclusive club with only about 75 members, total, since it was created.

A private at the time, stationed at Forward Operating Base Wilson, in Panjwayi District. A desolate Afghan wilderness surrounded by a vast emptiness, widely considered the spiritual home of the Taliban and one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan for Nato Forces.

Assigned to a motorized support unit, his role, each day, was refueling the vehicles. His daily task complete, he retired to the mess tent for a dish of noodles.

Hearing an explosion and screams he started running. Not away but toward the blast.

“If you think about it, in a situation like that, it is kind of stupid running toward an explosion. Or you would think it was, but something just clicked in my mind. I wasn’t thinking.” said Cpl. Harris when interviewed. Not wearing a helmet or a flak jacket, Taliban bombs falling all around, he ran to an empty shipping container doubling as accommodation that had been blasted to bits.

There was blood everywhere. Smoke. Screams. Six men were wounded. A seventh was dead. In war movies, time slows down. For Private Harris, time became a blur. He was acting, reacting, yanking an American from the burning, twisted metal wreck, tying off his severed femoral artery and lugging him across a 200-metre stretch of open ground before going back to grab another one.

“We were moving pretty quickly,” Cpl. Harris says, laughing. “I definitely didn’t want to be out there. Nobody did. It is strange. I didn’t really remember a thing about what happened until I was sitting in an armoured vehicle afterwards and having a cigarette.

I was shaking all over. I had blood on my boots and blood on my pants. One of my buddies brought me a bag of Doritos — and then I was all good — but I couldn’t talk about it.”