When Bruce Moncur talks about the actions of Pte. Jess Larochelle on Oct. 14, 2006, in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan, he describes them as “superhuman.”
Moncur, a retired Canadian Forces corporal, is one of the veterans who is pushing for Larochelle to receive the Canadian Victoria Cross, the country’s highest military honour. And one that has never been given out.
“What he did that day was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty,” Moncur told As It Happens host Carol Off.
Larochelle would be the first person to receive the honour, which was created in 1993 to replace the British Commonwealth Victoria Cross. That award was last given to a Canadian who served during the Second World War.
Moncur, who served with Larochelle, says on that day in 2006, the private had volunteered to be at an observation post by himself. It would normally have two people to operate the two C-6 machine guns. The platoon was short-handed because one of their vehicles had hit an improvised explosive device and had to be taken back to Kandahar airfield.
That afternoon the observation post was attacked.
“When the attack happened, a rocket hit his position, knocking him unconscious, but also breaking vertebrae in his neck and his back, detaching … one of his retinas and blowing the eardrum out of his right side,” said Moncur.
When Larochelle came to, he fought off the Taliban with an M72 rocket launcher, something Moncur says would’ve been extremely difficult to do given his injuries.
“I know the kick of those rockets and I could just imagine how excruciating each of those would have been firing them with broken vertebrae, a broken neck,” said Moncur.
Push to see Larochelle honoured
Sgt. Darcy Tedford and Pte. Blake Williamson were killed in the attack and three other soldiers were wounded. But Larochelle’s actions helped save lives, and allowed the company to fight back against more than 20 Taliban fighters.
“His actions were basically superhuman, especially given the injuries that he sustained,” said Moncur.
The following year, in 2007, Larochelle was awarded the Star of Military Valour for his actions, Canada’s second-highest military honour.
Moncur, along with other veterans in the non-profit group Valour in the Presence of the Enemy, is calling for Larochelle to receive the Canadian Victoria Cross.
They have the support of retired general Rick Hillier, who told CBC News in September they would write to the Governor General asking for a review of Larochelle’s citation, in hopes of upgrading it.
Moncur’s wife, NDP MP Niki Ashton, is the sponsor of a petition in the House of Commons that is pushing for Larochelle to receive the award.
Larochelle struggles with health issues
Larochelle is a private person who likes to go hunting and take out his pontoon boat for trout fishing, according to Moncur.
But in the last few years, Larochelle’s health has begun deteriorating.
“So the bad days are vastly outnumbering the good days,” said Moncur. By September, Larochelle had lost 100 pounds, and had been in out of hospital about twelve times while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong.
Moncur and others started championing Larochelle’s actions that same month, to mark the 15th anniversary of Operation Medusa, which Larochelle fought in.
“Jess has had a rough go since coming home and the health issues are just part of it, you know, the memory issues and the PTSD, ” said Moncur. “He paid such a high price and he’s still paying for that day, mentally and physically, you know, every day and it’s only gotten worse.”
Moncur also worries that Larochelle won’t be alive to receive the Victoria Cross.
But since they’ve gone public, Larochelle seems to have rallied.
“He’s very humbled. He’s very appreciative of the efforts that we’ve gone through, and his health started getting better,” said Moncur.
“I think the morale boost helped and that’s what we really want to do.”
Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from Murray Brewster. Interview produced by Kate Swoger.