June 13th, 2024

Mother of peacekeeper killed in Bosnia is this year’s Silver Cross Mother

By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press on November 1, 2023.

Gloria Hooper, of St. Claude, Man., seen in an undated handout photo, is the national Silver Cross Mother for 2023. Hooper’s son, Chris Holopina, died in a vehicle accident while deployed in Bosnia in 1996. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Royal Canadian Legion, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

OTTAWA – Chris Holopina called his mom in Manitoba every single week while he was deployed in Bosnia in 1996.

At 23, he was doing exactly what he’d always wanted to do: serving in the Canadian Armed Forces as a combat engineer.

Gloria Hooper remembers how grateful she was that he was able to find time for those weekly calls.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said in an interview on Tuesday from her home in St. Claude, Man.

“It wasn’t a long talk, but it was just what we’re doing that week or that day. … He phoned me, and if my daughter (Ashley) wasn’t home at that time, he phoned to talk to her the day after.”

Holopina was deployed as part of Operation Alliance, a United Nations peacekeeping mission that began in December 1995. It was his third deployment, after he spent time in Cyprus and Croatia.

On July 4, 1996, he was killed when a Canadian armoured vehicle crashed into a ravine while trying to help rescue a group of British soldiers from a mine field. He was the first Canadian to die as part of that UN mission.

More than 27 years after the crash, Hooper is preparing to travel to Ottawa to take part in the national Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11 as this year’s Silver Cross Mother.

The experience is bringing back a lot of emotions and memories for Hooper, who lives with dementia.

“It’s hitting me now,” Hooper said.

“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 said she remembers very clearly that Holopina always wanted to join the military, playing with army-themed toys as a boy and then joining the reserves when he was just 16.

“He wanted it right from when he was small.”

Hooper and her husband, Clinton Hooper, were busy with a variety of jobs when their kids were young. They also spent time on the family farm where Hooper grew up in rural Manitoba.

The military allowed Holopina to travel, both inside Canada and overseas, and he loved to explore new places. He was also a bit mischievous and a lot of fun, his mom said, and a gifted artist.

“He liked kids. He always worked with them,” Hooper said, adding he loved to spend time with his younger sister.

While he was in Bosnia, Holopina took note of how many families with small children were struggling. He organized a clothing and toy drive that the whole family took part in, collecting donations in Manitoba to send to kids who needed them.

The memorial cross, or silver cross, has been handed out to the mothers and widows of soldiers killed in combat since December 1919 as a memento of their sacrifice. The Royal Canadian Legion selects a national Silver Cross Mother annually who takes part in events throughout the year.

In the past, Hooper said she has spent the mornings of Nov. 11 in Portage la Prairie, Man., laying a wreath at the local cenotaph with some 200 people present.

She made a point of being there for the annual ceremony even during COVID-19, when most people had to stay home and watch online. She said it’s important that people come to learn.

This year will be different, with much larger crowds expected at the National War Memorial, where Hooper will lay a wreath on behalf of other mothers who’ve lost a child in military service.

And while she’s feeling a little overwhelmed as the day gets closer, she’s also looking forward to being there.

“I’ll be OK. I know if Chris was sitting here, he’d say: ‘Go, go, go.'”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2023.

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