Gloria Hooper will lay a wreath at the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa, representing all families who have lost a child serving for Canada.
Gloria Hooper’s voice quivers as she recalls the tragic day in 1996 when her son, Christopher Holopina, was killed in a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The pain of losing her 22-year-old son is as fresh as ever.
“He was the only one [killed],” says Hooper from her home in the small French village of St. Claude, Man. “We could hardly wait for him to come home, and I thought after, yeah, he came home, but not the way he wanted or that we wanted.”
The Royal Canadian Legion has named Gloria Hooper as this year’s National Silver Cross Mother. An honour bestowed upon a mother who has lost a child serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, dating back to 1919.
Bruce Julian, Dominion President, emphasizes the importance of this tradition. “Mrs. Hooper not only embodies the legacy of her fallen son, but her presence comforts all Silver Cross Mothers and families, and reflects our collective remembrance of their loved ones’ sacrifice,” he says.
On Remembrance Day, November 11th, Hooper will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. She will represent all Canadian mothers who have lost a child in the line of service, whether in action or over the course of normal duty.
For Hooper, the Remembrance Day ceremony brings back a flood of memories and emotions, especially now that she is living with dementia. “It’s got me back to the way it was at the beginning, and now it’s like, oh, I wish he was here,” she says.
Chris Holopina had always dreamed of serving in the military. He joined the reserves at 16 and enlisted as a member of a combat engineer regiment after high school. He served two previous tours of duty abroad, in Cyprus and Croatia, before his fateful deployment to Bosnia in 1996.
While in Bosnia, Holopina went beyond his call of duty, organizing a toy and clothing drive for local children in need. His family collected, packed, and shipped donations to Holopina, who then distributed them to the children. “He worked with the kids over there … to get them playing and stuff,” Hooper recalls.
Holopina’s death was a significant loss to the community as well. The Portage la Prairie Armoury lounge was renamed the Holopina Lounge, and a wall was dedicated to him. In 2005, the province named a lake after him. He now rests at the St. John cemetery in Shell Valley, north of Russell, Man.
Gloria Hooper visits his grave as often as she can. “He’s learning things about us and stuff like that. I do it all the time,” she says.
As she prepares to travel to Ottawa for the Remembrance Day ceremony, Hooper is filled with a mix of emotions. “I’ll be OK. I know if Chris was sitting here, he’d say: ‘Go, go, go.’” She concludes, her voice filled with pride and sadness.