Ex-cadet’s family will get Memorial Cross
19755 Christopher Saunders
Published Friday January 16th, 2009 -Telegraph-Journal
Recognition Mother of victim of submarine fire welcomes change in government policy
QUISPAMSIS – The mother of the Canadian navy officer who died in a submarine fire in 2004 received a phone call Thursday she has been waiting to get for five years.
Deborah Sullivan learned she will receive the Memorial Cross to honour the sacrifice made by her son, Lieut. Christopher Saunders, 32, of Quispamsis, who died on HMCS Chicoutimi during the submarine’s maiden voyage from Scotland to Halifax.
“I started crying,” Sullivan said of the moment when she heard the news.
“I was very relieved and very pleased. It means more to me than I can put into words. To me, it’s a symbol of the sacrifice my son made to the country. It’s a legacy that will be left behind to his family and his children. It’s something they can look back upon with pride.”
Since 1919, the Memorial Cross has been awarded to the mothers and widows of members of Canada’s armed forces who have died on active duty.
Until Thursday, Saunders’ family did not qualify for the silver medal because he was not in a “special duty area” at the time of his death.
At the time Saunders died on duty, the Memorial Cross was only awarded to the families of those who served and died in overseas missions.
On Thursday, the Department of National Defence announced it had made revisions of the Memorial Cross regulations to include the families of all service-related deaths that happened after Oct. 6, 2001, regardless of where they occurred.
“It’s a bittersweet end to a long struggle to have these changes made,” Sullivan said.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson cited Sullivan’s story, and other similar stories from across the country, as the reason the government made the changes.
“I do know the Memorial Cross means so much to these families. The government is sensitive to these issues and we responded to a real need to make changes, changes we could argue could have be made a long time ago. And it will truly mean a lot to these families and this family in particular,” Thompson said.
“This has nothing to do with parties. It is all about doing the right thing for the men and women who really deserve our praise and thank-yous every day for the work they do for Canada.”
Sullivan said after her son died, she expected to receive the medal. After a year, she said she contacted the government and found out she and her son’s widow did not qualify.
“I thought it was unfair because this is a medal given for the service of these young men and women,” Sullivan said. “My son died serving his country, it may not have been in a war zone, but he died.”
Sullivan asked Paul Zed, Saint John MP at the time, for help.
Zed took the issue to the House of Commons in a motion that asked the government to award the medals to all mother and widows of soldier who died on active duty regardless of location.
Zed, who is no longer in politics, said the news is wonderful.
“It’s just one of those cases as an MP you work on because you believe the system was wrong and you are always hopeful common sense will prevail,” Zed said.
“I had always hoped people would put partisan politics aside and do the right thing and clearly the memory of her son is honoured today by this decision.”
Zed said during his fight for this change he brought it up in the House of Commons several times and had members of all political parties and military generals tell him they agreed with his position.
“There should not be two different classes of citizens who die, one in the fevers of war and one in a tragic accident carrying out their duties,” Zed said.
“Obviously the government recognized there shouldn’t be two different classes. “¦ I’m very excited for Deborah and for her family and for Christopher’s boys, who will know that their father truly is a New Brunswick and Canadian hero.”
Dean Mercer, a best friend of Saunders, said every time he looks at a picture or thinks about his friend, he misses him.
He said Saunders was an easy-going guy who always had a smile on his face, was always there if anyone needed anything and who died doing what he loved.
Mercer said the death of his young friend reminds him to live every day with meaning and to always smile and be positive because that is what Saunders would have wanted.
“This is fantastic news. The family has gone through a tremendous amount,” Mercer said.
“This will give them peace of mind. You can never have closure but at least they will have something to remember him by and know the government and the military are thinking of him as well.”
Sullivan said she thinks her son would be very thankful his family is being given something that can be left to his children so they can look back and understand the sacrifice that was made.