It’s time to award the Canadian Victoria Cross to Private Jess LaRochelle
PHOTO VICTORIA CROSS BY DAVID ASH / NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA
By Michael Blais CD
Canadians acknowledge military valour with three potential decorations. Candidates for the Medal of Military Valour are chosen due to “an act of valor or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.” The Star of Military Valor (SMV), second on the tier, would be awarded “for distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy”.
The Victoria Cross, the supreme level of recognition, is awarded for “the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or preeminent act of valor or self sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
In the presence of the enemy is the central theme. To date, ninety nine Canadians have been awarded the traditional Victoria Cross. None have been deemed worthy since the Conservative government created the Canadian Victoria Cross in 2008. That was at a time of our nation’s history when Canada was sustaining casualties in Afghanistan at a rate unseen since the Korean War. The political theatrics surrounding the public announcement led to high expectations from Canadians that the 100th recipient of the VC and thereby also the first Canadian Victoria Cross would be determined during the course of the war in Afghanistan.
However, the Conservatives deemed that the requisite levels of “conspicuous acts of valour” were not met and thus rendered the Canadian VC a headline without substance. While the war in Afghanistan may have not concluded as many Canadian pundits envisioned, this should not detract from the fact that several Canadian soldiers selflessly performed incredible acts of bravery, courage and self sacrifice, wherein the heroic acts of one individual saved the lives of many.
The Afghanistan War is over, the government of that era has been replaced and past excuses pertaining to VC deferment under the guise that another, greater act of glory could yet be committed, are as lame as the treatment our war wounded received from VAC when returning from Afghanistan. Fortunately, many of the adverse issues affecting the health and well being of Canada’s war traumatized have been redressed by the current Liberal government.
While there continues to be contentious issues in respect to expedient adjudication, service delivery and competent staffing levels, there have been important policy changes which have improved the quality of life of our Afghan veterans who were adversely affected by the deeply reviled New Veterans Charter.
The time now has come for the Liberal government to redress the political failure thus far to award the Canadian Victoria Cross. It is time for the veterans’ community to rally behind the efforts of General (retd) Rick Hillier and the non profit organization Valour in the Presence of the Enemy. This initiative is supported by every former Task Force Commander who led troops in the Afghanistan war.
These former officers have taken the lead, conducting due diligence research on each of the recipients of the Star of Valour citations to determine who, if anyone, fulfilled the criteria to warrant the Victoria Cross. As a result, they have selected Private Jess LaRochelle, First Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and they are now advocating that the government review Private Larochelle’s Star of Military Valour citation. Their intent is to include new information that would fulfill the necessary prerequisites for the Victoria Cross. Subsequently this would result in the awarding of the medal to Private Larochelle through royal decree.
Private Jess LaRochelle, First Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment
On October 14, 2006, Private Larochelle of the 1st Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group was manning an observation post when it was destroyed by an enemy rocket in Pashmul, Afghanistan. Although he was alone, severely injured, and under sustained enemy fire in his exposed position at the ruined observation post, he aggressively provided covering fire over the otherwise undefended flank of his company’s position. While two members of the personnel were killed and three others were wounded in the initial attack, Private Larochelle’s heroic actions permitted the remainder of the company to defend their battle positions and to successfully fend off the sustained attack of more than 20 insurgents. His valiant conduct saved the lives of many members of his company.
What is not mentioned in the citation is some vital information which elevates the case for awarding LaRochelle the Victoria Cross. Larochelle’s injuries from the rocket attack were substantial; his back was broken, one of his eyes was blinded through a detached retina, he was deafened in his right ear, and he was briefly concussed. When he regained consciousness, he was confronted with a scene from hell. Two of his regimental brothers were lying dead beside him. three were seriously wounded. The Observation Post (OP) was under sustained attack by over twenty insurgents. He discovered the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) he had been manning had been destroyed. Further compounding the situation, the platoon LAVs (Light Armour Vehicles) delegated to provide Fire support for the unit’s flank and the OP were both non serviceable due to weapon stoppages.
Larochelle was alone, seriously wounded, half blind, half deaf, yet he chose to fight. He gathered the OP’s 15 M72s (a light hand-held anti-tank recoilless rocket), exposed himself repeatedly to enemy fire while engaging the advancing insurgents with rocket fire so effective the enemy attackers were forced to withdraw. Also noteworthy that Larochelle’s section was short-handed at the time of the attack. He had volunteered to man the OP and after the attack, he remained on the field of battle for twelve hours despite his injuries. He only reported to the medics after he was returned to Kandahar Airfield. After brief medical treatment, he volunteered to carry one of his fallen comrades during the ramp ceremony. Two years later, shrapnel was still egressing from his skin. Ultimately, Private Larochelle’s injuries were deemed career ending. The physical and mental consequences of his acts of heroism resulted in a medical release.
Is this the definition of Victoria Cross recipient? I believe so.
If you concur, you can help. You can be part of the solution by engaging your MP and the Prime Minister of Canada on two levels. We must understand this will be a political decision and if we are to prevail in this noble effort, we must collectively win the hearts and minds of the Prime Minister and the parliament of Canada.
We must all do our part in outreach and awareness. Once you’ve sent your emails, reach out to friends and family to encourage them to be force multipliers by adding their correspondence. Finally, add your name to the parliamentary petition -E3636- Valour in the Face of the Enemy, where over 11000 Canadians have already signed.
Every name counts, so let us rally to the patriot call and unite under General Hillier’s leadership to collectively fight to ensure Private Jess Larochelle, 1RCR is recognized as the first recipient of the Canadian Victoria Cross.
Pro Patria – For Country!
This article first appeared in Esprit de Corps Magazine on January 10, 2022