“It Was What He Wanted To Do”

Trooper Larry John Zuidema Rudd, of the Royal Canadian Dragoons based in CFB Petawawa, ON, always wanted to be in the army. It didn’t even matter what country he served under. His mother, Helen Zuidema, remembers watching her only son walking around their Grand Street home wearing an United States army T-shirt.

“He was wearing the T-shirt around, and I said, ‘What’s the T-shirt from?’ She recalled sitting on her back deck with mother Toni Zuidema and family friend, Vicki Graham. Larry had originally applied for the American army: “He just thought you could choose a country and join.”

They acknowledged his application with the T-shirt and a letter, that as his mother remembers it, basically amounted to: “‘You’re Canadian.

Apply for the Canadian army.’” So, he did.

But despite the humor, it wasn’t a rash decision, or a sudden one. As a child, Larry named his first cat G.I. Joe The Great American Hero. “We shortened it to Joe after a while,” Helen admits. A second cat, also named Joe, followed.

He first started seriously thinking about joining when he was eighteen or nineteen. But, a work out buff, he wanted to make sure he was in good physical condition. He spent two years preparing himself. He was around 23 or 24 when he joined. His mother recalls he was older than most new recruits, but he wanted to be ready.

Larry always wanted to be in the army. His grandmother says he enjoyed it; the discipline. (“Well, he didn’t enjoy any discipline raising him,” her daughter remarks with a laugh.) There were practical reasons.

He could receive a good education there. Larry, who attended Tollgate Technological Skills Centre, knew he couldn’t afford Police Academy. He knew a Grade Eleven education was what he needed for the army, and he continued his education through it.

And then, there was the money. He chose to go to Afghanistan. “You make a lot of money when you come back from war, survivor benefits,” Helen remembers. “And it’s a sad thing to say.”

Granted, it wasn’t all about school and savings: Larry was strongly against drugs, and he knew he’d be in Afghanistan during the poppy harvest. That’s what his mission was: stopping the export of the drugs.

And while he signed up for Afghanistan, it wasn’t the only place he wanted to serve. There were thoughts of going on a rebuilding mission in Africa. He had wanted to go to Haiti after Afghanistan, but no more troops were being sent.

So, he enjoyed the Armed Forces, he wanted to be there. Practically, he knew the benefits of the job. He just didn’t necessarily want to go to war.

After all, he had been making peace much of his life. He received the Citizenship Award when he graduated from Grade Eight at Graham Bell-Victoria School. A “big boy” as his grandmother remembers (news reports listed his height at 6-feet-6-inches), he was repeatedly drawn to security jobs. He worked at the hospital where he was credited with saving someone’s life after calling a Code Blue on a patient experience anaphylactic shock, the mall, the casino, even at Laurier Brantford for a time, about eight years ago. A bouncer at Brando’s on Market for several years, the bar, where a deployment party was held for the soldier before he left, has a special page on their website dedicated to him.

“I think he liked the excitement,” Helen says of her son’s affinity for the line of work. “He liked the power, I think. He wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he liked to be in the bars.”

More importantly, he liked being part of people’s lives, and they liked being part of his. “He always brightened the room when he walked in,” Vicki Graham remembers. “If nobody was saying anything or talking, he’d have everybody laughing.”

Some, in fact, may say they owe their lives to him.

“During his visitation, this young girl comes up to me,” Helen recalls. “I didn’t have a clue who she was. And she says to me, ‘Larry saved my life.’ I said, ‘How did Larry save your life?’ She said, ‘In three words. He told me, ‘I deserve better.’’ She turned around and walked away. … I assume she was in a very bad way, and he just told her ‘You deserve better,’ and that’s what made her get out of that situation that she was in.”

It seems fitting then, for someone as sociable as Larry, that his death would create new friendships. Photos, phone calls, are constantly being sent to Larry’s family. Helen and her mother both received bouquets on Thanksgiving. The Queen sent a bouquet – 11 red roses and one yellow. Another bouquet Helen received recently had a simple card “From your 72 sons in Afghanistan.” The family of Greg Shubert, Larry’s roommate, has become very close to the Zuidemas. Graham put it simply: “Out of this tragedy, there’s been a network of friends that never knew each other that have now become friends. There’s so many people that I didn’t know that I know now because of this.”

He was in the army a little less than three years, preparing to be deployed overseas. In Afghanistan, he was less than three weeks. His family didn’t hear from him for the first two; Larry was moving around.

The last week, he called almost every day. They were preparing a care package to send him. On Sunday, he requested a dog collar and dog food – a dog had started following him around, and he wanted to take care of it.

The next day, Monday, Larry, 26, was part of a seven vehicle convoy driving supplies to Canadian troops near Salavat, a village about 20 kilometres west of Kandahar City. The first two tanks drove over the improvised explosive device, or just beside it. It exploded under the third tank, the one Larry was driving. The sound blast took him out; the tank wounded a main artery; he died eight minutes later. Greg Shubert, his roommate, who accompanied Larry’s body home, was in the first vehicle.

Perhaps a testament to his social character, the man who performed the autopsy was also a Brantford native, a friend of the soldier.

Larry, his mother says, was a few weeks away from being promoted to a corporal.

The day her son was buried, the dog he was concerned about gave birth to two puppies.

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