OTTAWA—The soldier standing guard alongside Cpl. Nathan Cirillo the day he was gunned down at the National War Memorial has returned to his post at the monument with a heavy heart.
Cpl. Branden Stevenson took up position by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Monday.
He said he was doing it in the memory of Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was killed in an attack in Quebec two days earlier, “and all those who stood and continue to stand on guard for Canada.”
Stevenson said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from Canadians since Cirillo’s murder Oct. 22.
“I now have to learn to live without someone who was closer to me than I can put into words. . . . Nathan Cirillo was my friend, my best friend, my brother. I will miss him forever,” Stevenson said in an emotional statement released Monday by the Defence Department.
Other sentries returned to the war memorial several days after the attack, under the watchful guard of Ottawa police officers armed with assault rifles.
Stevenson and Cirillo, both members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, were standing sentry duty at the monument when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, armed with a .30-30 rifle, approached from behind.
Zehaf-Bibeau fatally wounded Cirillo and fired at Stevenson but missed. The attacker then stormed Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where he was later shot dead by security staff.
The attack rocked the nation and the death of Cirillo, father to a 5-year-old son, left friends and family struggling to cope.
Stevenson said he was in “shock and grieving the loss of my best friend.
“I am still struggling to cope with everything that has happened,” he said in his statement.
“We met in Grade 9 and from that time on we were pretty much inseparable.
“We did everything together from hanging at the mall to going on double-dates, so it was an incredible honour when we were both chosen to come to the National War Memorial to stand-to as sentries.”
In his statement, Stevenson recalled how he was inspired to enlist by Cirillo’s love of the military and went to his house to practice his swearing-in. Both soldiers belonged with Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The two soldiers, Stevenson said, would make jokes that few others could understand, sing along to the tunes on the radio, though neither had much of a voice or knew the lyrics.
“It seemed as if we were always laughing and joking about something,” Stevenson said.
That sense of fun was evident the morning of the shooting as both soldiers took their place.
“As we stood sentry and walked the beat, one of my socks was sagging. Nathan smiled and intentionally kept our walk going so my sock would fall a little more,” he said.