Wayne Burkholder stood curbside early Thursday afternoon, a small Canadian flag gripped in one hand and both eyes fixed on the procession of vehicles that inched past groups of like-minded well wishers.
An OPP cruiser led the slow-moving convoy through Orillia’s downtown, followed closely by fire trucks and an ambulance.
In the rear of the ambulance, on a bed, was Warrant Officer Tim Aleman – man of the hour.
The 43-year-old Joyland Beach resident was returning to his community two weeks after being injured in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t know him,” remarked Burkholder. “We should stand behind our Canadian Forces.”
Yellow ribbons donated by a local flower shop adorned lampposts and store fronts, a symbol of support for Aleman, a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.
“We have handed out over 700 (ribbons) already,” shop owner June Morgan told a reporter the previous day. “It is really nice to see the community rally behind this family and all servicemen in Orillia.”
Standing next to Burkholder was Rama resident John St. Germain, who wore a camouflage-print ball cap dressed with tiny metal pins, including two bearing red poppies with the words “We remember.”
“They are heroes,” St. Germain said moments before the procession arrived at the foot of Mississaga Street. “I have lost family members in (wars).”
St. Germain then spoke of his own son, who at 22 is preparing to join the military.
“It is his life,” he added. “I can’t change it. But I told him, you belong to them once you join.”
Friends Patti Ivey and Carrie Vardy dressed in red and brought three Canadian flags, waving them encouragingly as the procession passed.
They had come simply “to thank him,” Ivey said. “To say we appreciate what he is doing for us and our freedom. It makes you proud.
“If we can’t take a couple of minutes to do that, then what is wrong with us?” she added.
“We are here living our lives and enjoying ourselves, and they are not,” she added.
Event organizer Barb Shakell-Barkey said she was “overwhelmed” by the turnout.