OTTAWA -- Canada offered its thanks Friday to the 40,000 veterans of the 12-year war in Afghanistan.

And the troops said thank you in return.

There was a 21-gun salute and a pipe band and a parade, but the National Day of Honour on Parliament Hill played down the pomp and emphasized the practical.

One of the keynote speakers was a sergeant, a heroic combat engineer who won the Medal of Bravery for crawling into a cramped space to spend two hours defusing an improvised explosive device in 2010.

Sergeant Dale Kurdziel, an engineer from Gagetown, New Brunswick, thanked the country for its support.

Kurdziel says letters from kids, care packages addressed 'To any Canadian soldier' from complete strangers or a quick phone call home were the things that put a smile on their faces.

Governor General David Johnston told the veterans "I'd like to offer you my deepest thanks for your service and your sacrifice."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canadians came together to make a collective promise that we will remember.

The families of many of the 158 soldiers killed during the mission carried photos of their lost loved ones as the crowd bowed their heads for two minutes of silence.

A relay of wounded Afghan veterans travelled to Ottawa carrying a baton which held the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan.

The flash and brass that jazzes up many military ceremonies was toned down.

Even the fly-past overhead didn't have the glamorous CF-18 jets that usually handle such duties.

Instead, there were Chinook and Griffin helicopters, Hercules, Airbus and Globemaster transport planes -- the workhorses used in the Afghan mission.