Tributes to Corporal Nathan Hornburg, born on Father’s Day, keep his memory alive
Calgary, Alberta — Corporal Nathan Hornburg was born on Father’s Day in 1983 – an event that made an already special day even more so for his father, Michael.
Cpl Hornburg was also a special individual who served his country with great distinction: as a part-time Army Reservist serving with the King’s Own Calgary Regiment (Royal Canadian Armoured Corps), he was not obliged to serve overseas, but volunteered nonetheless for combat duty in Afghanistan.
It was there that Cpl Hornburg was fatally struck by a mortar shell on September 24, 2007 as he worked to rescue a disabled tank.
“His death really hit the local community here in Calgary,” recalled Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Bill Schultz, who attended the funeral as part of his duties as Chief of Staff for 41 Canadian Brigade Group, which includes Cpl Hornburg’s unit.
“The funeral was held in the BMO Centre,” added LCol (Retd) Schultz. “There were probably 800 or 1,000 people there and more outside. Nathan was extremely well-liked among his peers.”
He met the soldier’s father, Michael Hornburg that day and, while the two would share only a brief moment, LCol (Retd) Schultz would later become an instrumental part of the ongoing efforts to honour Cpl Hornburg’s sacrifice and his family’s loss.
First tribute: Loops for the Troops charity run/walk
Those efforts began in 2008 with the inaugural Loops for the Troops event, a run/walk organized by Michael Hornburg in his son’s honour with proceeds going to Calgary’s Military Family Resource Centre.
The following year the organizers felt they no longer had all the resources needed to keep the event going and turned to the Royal Alberta United Services Institute (RAUSI), a nearly century-old charitable organization. LCol (Retd) Schultz is a past president and continues to serve on its board.
“We were sponsoring the race and providing the majority of the volunteer organizers to get it going,” he said. “Michael and I became very good friends and I thought he was an absolutely upstanding individual. He was very passionate about keeping his son’s memory alive and a very passionate supporter of the military.”
Loops for the Troops events continued to take place each year until an economic downturn in Alberta in 2015 led to a significant drop in corporate philanthropy, affecting charities right across the province. As a result, organizers reluctantly decided to discontinue the event. Another – separate but using the same name – continues in Edmonton.
Second tribute: Ghost Squadron keeps vehicle named for Cpl Hornburg running
Cpl Hornburg’s military family had found another way to salute their fallen comrade, however.
Before departing for Afghanistan, Cpl Hornburg had trained in the operation of the Leopard 2 Armoured Recovery Vehicle with a Regular Force unit: Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians).
“The Strathcona’s have a tradition dating back to the Second World War whereby they named their tanks,” explained LCol (Ret) Schultz. “But what they had never done was name any of the armoured support vehicles.”
So, shortly after his death, members named one of their Taurus Armoured Recovery Vehicles “Hornburg.” It was later retired from service and enshrined at the Military Museums in Calgary in 2015. Befitting the special relationship that Cpl Hornburg and his community shared, it would become much more than just a display item.
“When it arrived at the Military Museums, it was completely functional with all the equipment necessary to operate it,” LCol (Retd) Schultz recalled. “But they had no one to maintain it, no means of operating it or displaying it.”
“Veterans maintaining Veterans.”
LCol (Retd) Schultz soon got word that a group of former and current soldiers had banded together to take on both the work and expense of keeping the Hornburg running, dubbing themselves the Ghost Squadron and adopting as their motto, “Veterans maintaining Veterans.”
“The guys that formed the Ghost Squadron were paying for everything. They were using their own tools to repair the vehicle. They were basically paying to keep the vehicle active and running.”
The group’s activities were aligned with RAUSI’s mandate to support Veterans, educational initiatives and remembrance, LCol (Ret) Schultz explained. So it took on the responsibility of supporting the work and began a fundraising campaign.
Plans for dedication delayed after father’s health declined
The group, which continues its fundraising work in support of maintaining the Hornburg, and the Ghost Squadron members had the vehicle ready for display in 2016, though plans for a dedication ceremony were delayed after Michael Hornburg’s health took an unfortunate turn: Just after completing the 800-kilometre Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Happily, he was well enough to attend a dedication held in September of 2017.
“Michael and his whole surviving family were there and so he got closure knowing that this would be a living memorial in honour of his son and all those who sacrificed in Afghanistan and that there was a fundraising organization behind it,” said LCol (Retd) Schultz.
A fitting memorial for Michael Hornburg
Michael Hornburg died in March 2018.
LCol (Retd) Schultz said he is pleased that visitors to the Military Museums now have something more than a static display to help them appreciate the sacrifices of Cpl Hornburg and his comrades.
“Seeing a tank that’s welded onto a piece of concrete isn’t as memorable as having an engine running and experiencing the smell of the fumes and the noise and the tight confines of the vehicle. People walk away remembering that for the rest of their lives.”
By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
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