ARCHIVED - Military funeral for Sergeant Mark Salesse held in Comox, British Columbia

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News Article / March 2, 2015

By Major Mary Lee

Best described as awe-inspiring, the military funeral of Sergeant Mark Salesse drew hundreds of people to 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, on February 28, 2015.

On a clear, sunny Saturday afternoon, the squadron hangar was filled with family, friends and colleagues, both military and civilian, from near and far, who gathered together to pay their respects to a fallen aviator.

Sergeant Salesse, 44, was killed during a military training exercise at Polar Circus near Banff, Alberta. He and three other search and rescue (SAR) technicians from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Winnipeg, Manitoba, had completed their ascent and were on the way down when an avalanche swept Sergeant Salesse off the side of a narrow cliff on February 5. His teammates were not affected by the avalanche.

Banff Parks Canada led a six-day search that was hindered by continuous poor weather. The mission was reduced from a rescue to a recovery as Parks Canada came to realize neither the conditions, nor the probable fall could be favourable for survival.

A motorcade of approximately 20 vehicles was met by the pallbearer party consisting of six SAR technicians, proudly wearing the SAR orange beret, who gently received the casket and marched smartly to the center of the hangar floor. The men were Sergeant Salesse’s SAR technician course mates (Course #38), and came from across Canada to be with their brethren.

Described by many as a gentle giant, Sergeant Salesse was genuine, honest and giving to all, as evidenced by the emotional comments from his mother, Liz Quinn, his best friend and Canadian Army colleague, Denis Byrne, and members of the SAR community.

“Sergeant Salesse had a physical presence that made people notice him, but it was his natural tendency to reach out and help others that made him a person others could call a brother or a friend,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Warden, the commandant of the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue, located at Comox.

“Some of you knew Mark better than others, but you’re here today because he had an impact on your life, and you want to honour that. Because he did affect you in some way, it’s not going to be easy to say goodbye.”

Sergeant Salesse was a native of Bathurst, New Brunswick, and stationed in Winnipeg; the family’s preference for a formal funeral on Vancouver Island was a reflection of his passion for the mountains, adventure and outdoor sport. It was in Comox that he fulfilled his career aspirations by graduating into the SAR technician profession in 2005. He invested his passion beyond his career into his community, volunteering in the Comox ground SAR organization and with Mount Washington Ski Patrol. And it was in Vancouver where his military career in the Canadian Army began with the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own). His life indeed came full circle in and around the mountainous region.

"Mark was a friend to everyone. He was the loving threads that held the colourful quilt of friends together,” said Liz Quinn during the funeral service for her son.

“And by the many gathered here today, he saw beauty in each of you, and you in him.”

The service concluded with a fly-past of a SAR aircraft in front of the wide open hangar bay with the pristine mountains spread across in the backdrop as the piper played the Lament.

Sergeant Mark Salesse will return once again to his hometown of Bathurst, New Brunswick, on March 1 for the interment and an intimate service to allow his father, Maurice Salesse, who was unable to travel to British Columbia, as well as other family members a chance to pay their respects and say good-bye to the ‘gentle giant’.

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