The importance of Remembrance Day has lost its meaning for too many people, becoming a routine day off work and school with questions frequently left unanswered. What is Remembrance Day all about and what relevance does it have in today’s society? Why do we wear a poppy at this time of year? In search of answers to these questions, this week I spent an hour at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 3 speaking with a NATO veteran and an active member of the Canadian Forces. It was in that hour that I learned more about the sacrifices that our military members make than I ever could by attending a Remembrance Day service.
When the word veteran comes up in conversation, the first thing that probably enters your mind is a picture of senior citizen that served as a soldier in war. As the numbers of World War II and Korean veterans have decreased as time goes on, we need to appreciate the younger generation of veterans. The ‘New Veterans’ have served in peace keeping missions, NATO, the Gulf War, and in Afghanistan, amongst other operations. These veterans are too often forgotten.
It is nearly impossible to compare the experience of a soldier from the First World War to that of a soldier in similar role in Afghanistan due to changes to technology and warfare tactics. The truth is that today’s veterans have dedicated themselves to serve their country and mankind, just as nobly as soldiers from yesteryear. Since the end of the Korean War, the Canadian Forces have lost 117,000 brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country during war and subsequent operations. We need to pay tribute to their contributions and recognize how we have benefited from their service.
My grandfather served as a soldier with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in WWII, where he was deployed in both Canada and in Europe. I have limited knowledge of my grandfather’s service because he chose not to talk about what he experienced in the line of duty. When I recently spoke to the Canadian Legion No.3 members, they said that my grandfather’s silence was not uncommon as many chose to not speak so as not to remember and relive their often traumatic experiences. Similarly, many of today’s new veterans have difficulties voicing their own account of their tours of duty in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, and Rwanda in the capacities of peacekeeping and active combat.As in the past and in the present, members have sacrificed not only for their country but for their families. When deployed in active duty, soldiers are away from their loved ones and fiends for months or even years at a time. Members of the Canadian Forces may miss the births of their children, birthday parties, weddings, dance recitals, and other events that most of us would take for granted. While the methods of communication have improved as technology has advanced with satellite phone service, skype, and e-mailing, it doesn’t replace being present in the same room, breathing the same air, sharing the same laugher or experiencing the same pain . When careers in the military can turn into lifelong commitments, they can also be one of lifelong sacrifice for which we all need to be thankful.
The emotional impact of war has not gone away. Soldiers see their friends and brothers in combat die or become injured nearly every day. The uncertainty of life and death creates a bond amongst serving members that lasts well beyond their service days. It is often with their comrades in arms that former members find a sense of belonging and acceptance where the unspoken word can often say enough and mean everything. Members of the Legions find both companionship and support with each other as they gather together throughout the year as well as on Remembrance Day. The Legion raises funds through the donation of monies from the distribution of poppies to help provide service and supports for veterans. The wearing of a poppy symbolizes remembering the lost soldiers as originated in the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” by Canadian World War I medical doctor John McCrae.
Warfare will always exist. Living in a peaceful country is a blessing and it is due to the dedicated service of the Canadian Forces. The sacrifices that they make to ensure the freedom of every Canadian, as well as people around the world. Without our service men and women we could be without the rights and freedoms that we cherish. We need to learn to appreciate the still serving members of the Canadian Forces and our veterans. Go down to your local Legion and talk to the veterans. Visit the military and air force museums. Attend the Remembrance Day services. We can’t overlook the accomplishments that our military has undertaken.
So when you wear a red poppy for Remembrance Day, think of the sacrifices made in the past and in the present. Be thankful for the peaceful nation that we live in now, and will continue to enjoy in the future because of the dedication of the proud men and women of the Canadian Forces. Lest we forget. . .