SUMMERSIDE — A smile that could light up a room. And eyes like no other.
That’s what Kathy Bulger remembers most about her son.
At age 30, her eldest child was killed. A roadside bomb is was what claimed his life.
It was devastating news for the mother who avoided fully knowing the risk that her son, a member of Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance’s tactical team, faced daily while stationed in Afghanistan.
On July 3, 2009, Cpl. Nick Bulger was in the vehicle travelling behind the general he was ordered to protect when his light armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
Nick was killed instantly. It’s a fact Kathy is grateful for.
Five other soldiers were hurt in the explosion that narrowly missed the vehicle carrying the commander of Canadian coalition troops.
It was after Vance’s vehicle safely passed over the bomb that the device was set off 15 metres behind the vehicle Nick was driving.
“They were on patrol, on their way back to camp, and they had switched vehicles. They never went the same route and the vehicles were never in the same order,” Kathy recalls. “He was in the first on the way to patrol and, on the way back, he was in the second.”
The first vehicle loosened the IED.
“When Nick’s went over... ,” Kathy’s voice trails off and she stops for a moment.
It’s a day forever etched to the memory of the woman who joined an exclusive group, the ranks of Silver Cross Mother, a distinction no mother wants but a title that, now, Kathy is proud to hold.
“That day changed my life completely.”
On Saturday, Nick’s photo will be erected as part of a display honouring Prince County soldiers who died serving their country.
The Wall of Remembrance will also bear the images of select others like Nick, who, although not born on P.E.I., have ties to its red soil.
The living memorial is the collaborative effort of numerous groups and individuals comprising what’s dubbed the Lest We Forget Initiative.
It’s something member Jay Gallant says has been a long time in the making.
“We’ll have approximately 200 photos and/or cameos of the fallen veterans from Prince County, plus a few exceptions,” says Gallant, adding that the 159 Air Force servicemen killed in training on the Island from 1941 to 1945 will also be included.
Eventually, likely a few years down the road, says Gallant, the wall will include images of all Prince County men and women killed in action while serving in all wars and conflicts dating back to the Boer War.
An interactive kiosk is also in the process of completion. That project began last year, with university student, Cody MacKay, gathering the stories of living veterans. MacKay and two other students will continue that work this summer.
Gallant admits gathering those stories, along with photos and information about these fallen heroes, is time consuming and difficult, and piecing together a fitting tribute, expensive.
There have been many patrons to date, including the City of Summerside, which has donated the wall space.
“This is going to take a number of years to complete, that’s for sure,” he adds. “It’s a living memorial. As the song goes, no more names on a concrete slab. We want a photograph, the age, the hometown. That makes it, all of a sudden, a living memorial. That’s all we ever wanted.”
The hope is once the wall is revealed more stories and photos will surface and supporters of the effort will come forward.
“I have an uncle whose photos it going to be on there,” says Gallant.
Saturday will be an emotional but proud day for Kathy.
On display that day, only feet from the Wall of Remembrance, will be a tribute to the 158 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
Nick’s image is among them.
“It’s bittersweet. It will be sad to see the Portraits of Honour and see all my boy’s comrades in arms,” says Kathy, who spent the first 12 years of her life on P.E.I. and, coincidentally, celebrates the one-year anniversary, Saturday, of her return.
“He truly believed with all his heart and soul in what he was doing over there, and he did make a difference.”
Kathy saw it first-hand when she travelled to that place where her son died.
“I met some of the Afghan people. I knew that he made a difference. I know he did.”
It was her Nick’s first deployment overseas.
He joined the Forces in 2000, surprising his mother with the decision.
Kathy learned the news via a phone call while Nick was at college.
“Mom, guess what I am thinking about doing,” he said to his mother, who was shocked by the revelation.
“Canada will never go to war, we’re peacekeepers,” he added.
All that would change on that fateful day — Sept. 11, 2001.
“The world as we know it changed,” reflects Kathy.
Nick was a member of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton, Alta.
On his last night in Edmonton, the eve before departing for Afghanistan, Nick called his mother. He had been scheduled to land the next, for a short time in his journey, in Trenton, Ont.
Kathy planned to meet him there.
“Mom, I can’t get off the plane,” Nick told Kathy over the phone. “I can’t give you a hug. I’ll see you when I get home.”
She never got that final hug.
“That’s OK,” said Kathy, her voice unwavering, showing great strength as a smile lights up her face. “I am so proud of my boy.”
Nick left behind a wife, Rebeka, and two daughters, sister Jessica, and two brothers, Christopher and Sheldon.
“He loved his family and being around family,” says Kathy. “He loved P.E.I. and loved coming to Gram’s cottage.”
Nick was the 121st Canadian soldier that died as part of the Afghan mission.
Saturday’s ceremony, at Credit Union Place, the home of the Veterans Convention Centre, outside of which is the Wall of Remembrance, begins at 1:30 p.m.