Soldiers who never made it home from the Second World War got a special tribute from home for the very first time on Sunday. A Manitoba family inspired hundreds of people to help create an international salute for soldiers buried in Coriano Ridge War Cemetery in Italy.
Poppies, bugles, and military grandeur are common sigNs for Canadians this time of year, but not in the Italian countryside.
“These cemeteries that dot the Gothic Line have never been decorated, never been recognized, they've never had a service here, so they've been waiting 70 years for this,” said Corrin Fraser.
It all started when Fraser helped her cousin, Wawanesa's Morley Roney, find the grave of his fellow soldier and friend Jimmie Griffiths, who died nearly 70 years ago. They also found the family who had been searching for Griffiths for decades.The former Manitoban, who now lives in Italy, organized Coriano Ridge War Cemetery's first-ever Remembrance Day service to honour every Canadian buried there.
“My buddy, he got hit with one of those shells,” said Roney. “He never knew what hit him.”
The 91-year-old war veteran couldn't make the trip from Manitoba, but his family paid respects for him.
“He would be so proud to be here today. I feel like he is here,” said Roney’s daughter Janice MacDonald.
Of the Canadians buried in the cemetery, the oldest was 38 when he died. The youngest had just turned 18.
Members of the Canadian and Italian military joined the effort within weeks of hearing the family's mission.
“We are here because it's very important for us to be here with Canadian people,” said Fabio Eusebi of the Italian Carabinieri.
“Just being another service member, it's touching,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Molaski. “It certainly brings a tear to my eye. It’s great.”
Canadian soldiers made special deliveries for others deeply touched by the story. Families of 35 of the soldiers buried in Coriano sent gifts for loved ones’ graves they've never had the chance to visit.
On one grave, a wedding photo sent from Edmonton.  Darlene Halsey had promised to take her grandmother to visit her husband's grave, but before she could, her grandmother passed away.
“She never got to go, and I think that created a big void, a big sadness,” said Halsey. “So this is my way of saying, ‘Now you’re there.’”
Italians from nearby towns also came to the ceremony. Fraser says dozens of locals saw the flags and joined the service, also wanting to honour the Canadian heroes.
With a report by Alesia Fieldberg. This is the fourth story in a five-part series called “The Poppy Trail.”