Veteran Gets Unexpected Gift From Long-Dead Friend

Edmonton Oilers T-shirt belonged to his best friend and fellow medic, killed in Afghanistan in 2008
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2022 8:51 AM CST
13 Years After Best Friend Was Killed in Afghanistan, a Gift
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Andy___Gin)

(Newser) – A Canadian veteran whose best friend and fellow service member was killed 13 years ago serving in Afghanistan got a surprise Christmas gift this year that drew out a cascade of feelings: his pal's Edmonton Oilers hockey T-shirt. The CBC reports on the emotional story of the friendship between Matthew Heneghan and Colin Wilmot, both medics with the Canadian Armed Forces who forged a bond in Edmonton while training for deployment overseas. "He had this infectious happiness about him and instantly was an easy guy to bond with," Heneghan, now 39, says of Wilmot. When it came time to be deployed to Afghanistan in early 2008, however, Heneghan wasn't able to go for a variety of personal reasons, and so Wilmot went off on his own. On July 6, 2008, while working in Kandahar, the 24-year-old was killed by an explosive device.

Heneghan says he couldn't stop feeling guilty that his friend died while he was safe back home, and he wrote about that guilt in his 2019 memoir, A Medic's Mind. Turns out one person who read his book had a connection to Wilmot: medic Phil Hunter, who was assigned to Wilmot's old bunk in Kandahar, where in the medic outpost Wilmot's Oilers T-shirt was hung on the wall in his honor. In November 2021, Hunter reached out to Heneghan to tell him he'd enjoyed his book. Then, shortly after that, he sent Heneghan a letter, along with the T-shirt, explaining who he was and why he'd decided to take the T-shirt down from the medic camp wall and bring it back to Canada. "It was a lot of crying and a lot of confusion to my poor girlfriend sitting beside me, because she had no idea what was going on," Heneghan tells the CBC of the moment when he realized what had been sent to him.

Hunter wrote in his letter that he'd offered Wilmot's sister the shirt soon after bringing it home in 2009, but she'd suggested finding a worthy friend to give it to instead. "Since then I've had this shirt in my possession looking to pass it along to the right person, someone who would find significance in having it," he noted. "I believe I have found that person in you." He added: "I hope you'll still feel some Colin vibes in it." Heneghan, who notes that he's thinking of donating both the shirt and Hunter's letter to the Oilers club as a tribute to Wilmot, says he thinks his friend would've been "tickled" by the T-shirt's 12,000-mile journey to Heneghan. "He'd probably have that goofy million-dollar smile," adds Heneghan. (Read more veterans stories.)

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