Valor Friday

| February 17, 2023

Private Jess Larochelle, SMV, 1 Royal Canadian Regiment

With this week’s announcement that Colonel Paris Davis will receive America’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, for actions almost 60 years ago, I want to take a look at another overlooked man. The US isn’t the only country that denies proper recognition for acts of valor. Canadian veterans have for quite a while now tried to get Jess Larochelle the Victoria Cross for his bravery in Afghanistan.

If Larochelle were to be awarded the medal, he’d be the first to receive the Canadian Victoria Cross, though he wouldn’t be the first Canadian to receive a Victoria Cross. This could get confusing fast, so let me elaborate a bit.

The Victoria Cross is, and always has been, the highest honor bestowed by the Crown of Great Britain. British colonies and overseas territories, up until relatively recently, received British awards and decorations, including the Victoria Cross (VC). Canada was the first Commonwealth country to sever their awards system from that of the mother island. Most of the others have followed suit.

In creating their own awards systems, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all have distinct awards and decorations. They no longer award British medals to their citizens. All three countries though retain the Victoria Cross as the highest national award, continuing with the lineage of the original VC. These new awards, which includes the Canadian VC, the VC for Australia, and the VC for New Zealand are, despite being named the same as the British VC (and retaining the same basic medal, ribbon, and post-nominals) are technically separate awards. Each country awards their version of the VC according to their own laws and regulations.

The VC (OG Britain award) has been received by 99 Canadians, the first awarded during the Crimean War. The distinctly Canadian VC (Canada) has yet to be awarded to anyone since its creation in 1993. The VC for Australia has been awarded five times (twice posthumously) since it was created in 1991, and the VC for New Zealand (established in 1999) has only a single recipient, Willie Apiata.

Returning to our story, the campaign to award Jess Larochelle the VC hopes to see him become the first recipient of the VC (Canada) and to become the 100th Canadian to hold a VC. The last award of the VC to a Canadian was to Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski (RCAF), for actions during World War II. The last living Canadian VC recipient was Sergeant Ernest “Smokey” Smith (Canadian Army, b.1914-d.2005).

Jess Larochelle was a member of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). In August 2006 they deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Athena (Canada’s contribution to the ISAF). The RCR has a storied history dating back 140 years. They are the senior infantry regiment in the Canadian Armed Forces. The battalion had previously served in Afghanistan from February to July 2005, but I don’t think Larochelle was with them for that deployment.

In the early days of their deployment, Private Larochelle was spending a lot of time at Patrol Base Wilson, in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. On 14 October, 2006, Larochelle and his teammates were advised they would be moving to provide security for a bulldozer building a road. They would be moving to what they called Strong Point Centre.

The day began like most others in the hot, dry season of this part of Afghanistan. A cloudless sky started to roast the Canadian soldiers early in the day. Strong Point Center was made up of little more than a rock formation and some ruined old buildings, but was in the heart of Taliban country. Operation Medusa the month prior had seen extensive American-led offensive operations that engaged with and killed hundreds of Taliban in the area.

The Taliban were still very active in the region, having blended back into the civilian population. The men of 1 RCR had already suffered 15 men killed in action and 85 wounded, and they’d been here less than two months. Stretched thin, replacements had yet to arrive in great numbers, and to compound the problems, troops were already being rotated out of theater for the three weeks of leave they were entitled to during the deployment.

Even with that, the ISAF was expected to meet deadlines for reconstruction missions, which included the construction of the road that Larochelle would be helping safeguard today. The route the road would take went through extensive marijuana fields as high as nine feet. The terrain was definitely to the advantage of the Taliban.

As the day wore on, in the afternoon, the Canadians (and a small contingent of the Afghan National Army) were attacked at Strong Point Centre. The Taliban had been spotted in the area many times in the morning, and a vehicle had earlier been disabled by an IED. Military aged males seen walking through the fields were unarmed, and thus according to the rules of engagement, could not be fired upon. They were thus able to move to their weapons caches in the fields surrounding Strong Point Centre with ease.

There was a radio message warning that the Canadians were facing an imminent attack. The under-strength platoon started to mount up in their LAV infantry fighting vehicles. Within minutes the attack started.

The men of 1 RCR were taken under fire from RPGs and intense small arms fire. Larochelle was in the southernmost machine gun observation post on the perimeter. He’d volunteered to man the position alone, normally a job for two, because they were short handed due to the IED hit on the truck. Of the first two RPGs sent towards the Canadians, the first struck Larochelle’s position, throwing him backwards, and knocking him unconscious.

Coming to, Larochelle was severely injured. Nearby, the other RPG had hit the LAV. Two comrades lay dead while three more were wounded. Small arms fire continued into his mostly exposed position. The enemy was firing RPGs equipped with cluster ammunition, causing air bursts of submunitions from every round fired, splattering him repeatedly with shrapnel from above. The enemy fire and explosions had also kicked up the ever-present Afghanistan dust, precluding Larochelle from seeing any definitive targets.

Despite his injuries, he moved to the C6 light machine gun alone and started firing. Larochelle later recalled thinking, “Crap, I need something with a little more punch.” Meanwhile the enemy fire onto his elevated position continued unabated. He could hear the snapping sounds as the Taliban bullets passed within inches of his head, sending off little sonic booms in their wake.

Larochelle turned and saw, still in his little dugout, were 15 M72 rocket launchers. By some miracle they hadn’t detonated during the earlier explosion that knocked him out.

Larochelle didn’t know if the rocket launchers, known as LAWs for Light Anti-Tank Weapon, were still functional. They might explode the minute he touched one. He grabbed the first, flipped up the sight, and took aim at the enemy. Larochelle fired constantly at the unseen enemy, launching rocket after rocket. He was the sole defender on his flank of the outpost. About 10-20 enemy fighters were closing to within 200 yards of his position.

Firing the single-use weapon into the enemy positions, the rockets designed to penetrate Soviet tanks literally blew up the enemy soldiers. Each shot Larochelle takes exposes him to enemy fire as he raises up to sight in the weapon. He alone faced the enemy’s brunt as not only the lone defender on that side of the outpost, but also the man single-handedly decimating their brethren.

During the fighting, Larochelle was nearly killed a second time when an RPG struck the berm just below the sandbags that lined his position. Not injuring him, it kicked up a lot of dirt and dust.

Larochelle had the presence of mind to look for those firing RPGs and also noticed the enemy was walking mortar fire into his position. He scanned the field for the mortar pit, and once located it, sent a rocket into the enemy emplacement. He fired all but two of the rockets, saving those in case there was another attack, and returned to firing the machine gun.

The C6 machine gun had been loaded with 200 rounds when he took over the observation post. Larochelle had carried another 600 in a backpack with him. By the end of the fighting he was down to his final 100 rounds, having kept track of his ammo count during the ordeal.

Under the intense fire brought by Larochelle, the enemy force (estimated at 20-40 men) was driven back. His actions are credited with preventing Strong Point Centre from being overrun and for saving the lives of the rest of his company, as no more were killed that day. The battle lasted 30-40 minutes. Virtually every man in the platoon had been injured by shrapnel.

When his captain finally arrived at the observation post (OP) Larochelle was manning, the officer was stunned at the number of rocket launchers laying expended around the young private. He didn’t mention to any of his compatriots that he himself was injured. Instead, he continued to man his post while they attended to all the other wounded. He was resupplied with ammo and water, having sucked his Camelbak dry during the fight.

When his platoon warrant officer came and asked if he wanted to be replaced, Larochelle refused. He said, “I don’t think you want to put somebody through that who hasn’t been through it before. I can handle it if [an attack] happens again.” The warrant offered to give him a partner at least, which Jess said, “Would be great.” They “slept” (i.e. rested sleeplessly, on edge, and uncomfortable), in that OP for the night, prepared to defend against another attack.

On the 15th they were finally relieved by another platoon. When they returned to their meager base, they were sent on to Kandahar. They arrived in Kandahar on the evening of the 15th, more than 24 hours since the engagement had begun. Larochelle helped carry the caskets of his fallen brothers in the ramp ceremony as their bodies were loaded onto the plane for their final trip home. Only after those lost have been sent off does he report to have his own wounds attended to.

Private Larochelle’s wounds were extensive, and made his insane one-man stand all the more impressive. The rocket that knocked him unconscious in the first moments of the fighting had broken vertebrae in his back and neck, detached one of his retinas, and blew out his right eardrum. He fought through the pain of a broken neck while half blinded and half deaf to fire the M72s and machine gun repeatedly.

After the fighting, and while still voluntarily remaining at his post through the night, Larochelle was in constant pain. His neck and back hurt, he was bleeding from his right ear, and he couldn’t see out of his right eye. When he stood up to take a piss, his equilibrium was off. He ended up pissing all over himself as he fell down. He walked like a drunk, he says. Yet he never let his platoon mates down.

Star of Military Valour (SMV)

For his heroism, Larochelle would receive the Star of Military Valour (SMV). This is Canada’s second-highest award for combat gallantry, equivalent to a Distinguished Service Cross for an American soldier. He is one of only 23 men to have ever been awarded the SMV. Six of those have not been gazetted, which is to say their names haven’t been published, due to the classified nature of the operations. At the time of his award, Larochelle was only the fourth man to have received the SMV.

After the battle, Larochelle’s injuries forced his immediate evacuation. He was put into a neck brace and on some heavy narcotics for the pain, and relayed the above events to his commanding officers. According to one of his comrades, even with his injuries and the support of his platoon mates, there were those in the rear echelon that accused him of faking his injury.

That fellow soldier thinks that there was (and continues) to be some political gate-keeping that prevented Larochelle from receiving the VC. This is not at all dissimilar to the same type of issues we’ve seen in America that prevented heroes like Alwyn Cashe and John Chapman from receiving timely, proper recognition for their final acts of valor.

Larochelle’s wounds precluded continued service. He was discharged and leads a quiet, humble life. He likes to go hunting and take his pontoon boat out for trout fishing. He didn’t think he deserved any award.

Since his time in hell, Larochelle has suffered health problems, both physical and mental. The spinal injuries have limited his mobility. His comrades, who are building support for a review of his (and other) awards with an upgrade to a VC in mind, fear that he won’t live long enough to receive the honor he deserves.

According to a 2021 report, a comrade of Larochelle’s, Bruce Moncur, said of Jess, “He’s very humbled. He’s very appreciative of the efforts that we’ve gone through, and his health started getting better. I think the morale boost helped and that’s what we really want to do.”

Moncur said of Larochelle’s heroism that October day, “What he did that day was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty.” He also says, “His actions were basically superhuman, especially given the injuries that he sustained.”

Moncur is part of the effort to get Jess’ award upgraded to a VC. They’ve got the support of retired Canadian Forces General Rick Hillier, who was Chief of Defence Staff during the time that Larochelle was in Afghanistan.

Larochelle’s commander in Afghanistan, then-lieutenant-colonel Omer Lavoie (later a lieutenant-general) said that he “personally witnessed the valour of Jess Larochelle as he continued to fight while wounded and in the midst of his wounded and dead comrades. I have always felt that his actions that day in continuing to fight despite being wounded in order to break the enemy attack was worthy and commensurate with the historical awarding of a Victoria Cross.”

At the time, it was Lavoie’s job to recommend his humble young private’s award. Other than writing his citation as “for valour”, which ensured he’d receive one of three awards in the Canadian honours system, he didn’t recommend a specific award.

Currently, the Canadian honours system does not have a mechanism for review of past awards. Even in the case of new evidence, there is no way to later upgrade an award (as American, UK, and other allies do).

The latest update on the efforts to get Larchelle his upgrade was in June of 2022. From the Canadian Legion Magazine,

Government MPs have voted down the proposed creation of a board to review historical combat actions, including those of Private Jess Larochelle, with an eye to recommending Victoria Crosses where warranted.

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole drafted a detailed proposal after New Democrat MP Niki Ashton tabled a 14,129-name petition on May 19 urging the federal government to re-evaluate Larochelle’s decorated conduct in Afghanistan.

The consent motion required unanimous support from all members of the House, after which O’Toole’s pitch for a military honours review board would have been debated and likely passed by a simple majority of MPs in the minority parliament.

“All of the parties except the Liberals voted for it,” said a statement from the group Valour in the Presence of the Enemy, which has been championing a review for Larochelle and 26 other veterans as far back as the First World War.

“To those members who heckled Mr. O’Toole while he presented the motion, we ask that you do some serious soul-searching.”



Category: Army, Canada, Historical, UK and Commonwealth Awards, Valor, We Remember

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Amazing. Larochelle, while you have my admiration Murphy says I should never share a fox hole with you.

Old tanker

After all he did in combat and some spineless politicians block the review process from being created then heckle the supporters of same. What a disgusting bunch of cretins.

RGR 4-78

I am willing to bet the liberals are holding it off until they can bring it forward for implementation, so they are the “good guys”. Shows how little they care about Canadian Veterans.


A Warrior’s Warrior! SALUTE! Good thing for the Tally Bans that they didn’t overrun his position. He’d of beat them to death with his BBBs (Big Brass Balls).

I personally think that the only thing politicians are good for is as decorations to a lamppost…or a pike.

Great story, Mason. Thanks!


Amazing story and an amazing man! Sure as hell deserves the VC, and his CO should be ashamed for not recommending it!
And surprise, surprise, in Canuckistan, just like here, it’s democrats who hate real men and vote against the review board…
Can someone PLEASE explain to me how ANYONE that served would think that becoming a demonrat would be the next logical step???

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Damn you, Mason, you owe me a BOX of Kleenex!
Damn dusty here all of a sudden.
“That such men lived….”
A warrior’s warrior! And humble as well. May God bless you and grant you surcease from your pain.
And may God also give that pain to your detractors, may they suffer with it for eternity.
Now I gotta go find another box of Kleenex. (grumble Mason grumble grumble….)


“Moncur said of Larochelle’s heroism that October day, “What he did that day was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty.” He also says, “His actions were basically superhuman, especially given the injuries that he sustained.”


A BIG THANK YOU to our very own beloved Mason for sharing another Valor story of another Unsung Hero.