We remember our fallen

When I grew up, Remembrance Day was always a holiday.
The whole town closed up. Store owners shut their doors for the day and so, too, did the chains.
Schools were closed. Even the paper mill shut down for the day.
As Cubs and Scouts, we marched to the cenotaph, where much of the community was present. It was a sombre day full of remembering for the adults.
A cold, bitter wind, often filled with rain and wet snow, blew across the cemetery.
For me, it was a day away from school. And that once the ceremony was over at the cenotaph, we kids were free to have fun at home and in our neighbourhoods. We looked forward to the last holiday from school before Christmas.
We didn’t give a lot of thought to the value of the day. We enjoyed our innocence.
My grandfather Kleven had fought in the First World War and had been wounded. We didn’t discover this until my uncle researching family history on the web discovered this detail about his own father decades after his death.
He had never spoken of his time in the trenches.
My grandfather Cumming had been a medic in the First World War and had experienced the terrible toll on human life. He died before I ever had a chance to ask him about life in the war.
My own father was a navigator flying over the North Atlantic near the end of the war and he, too, never spoke of his life in the war, only talking about the day the war ended in Europe and the day the war ended with Japan.
It was his two fondest memories of the war.
Over time, I have come into contact with many veterans. Our former editor, Carl Schubring, had fought in Patton’s Brigade in Europe and annually joined his comrades at reunions. Another former editor, Harry Vandetti, also had enlisted. Each had their own perspective on the war, however, they dwelled little on battle and more on the people they lived and worked with.
Other veterans have touched my lives in our community and have had a great impact on the youth. The Memorial Arena was built and many of those soldiers, sailors, and fliers coached in minor hockey programs.
Others continued to serve their communities in the service clubs of the town.
And yet, Remembrance Day remained a day of mixed emotion, knowing that I should be at the cenotaph yet still being complacent and not attending. I never understood the sacrifice that parents shared with their children who went off to war in foreign countries.
Much has changed since the beginning of Canada’s participation in Afghanistan as part of the NATO coalition. A young man who was part of my Cub pack had joined the militia, and volunteered and served in Afghanistan.
Another who played in our house with my youngest son joined the militia in high school and followed his career in the military through university. He’s currently serving in Afghanistan.
A year ago, he was walking through our back door at Christmas. And frequently I wonder about his welfare and safety as countless other Canadians must wonder about the welfare of friends and family who have chosen to serve in Afghanistan.
As I follow the news on a daily basis, seldom does a day go by that some story of Canada’s troops in Afghanistan does not come in. And I think of those young men who were my Cubs and my children’s friends toiling in that far-off country to offer the citizens of Afghanistan some of the freedoms we enjoy here in Canada.
It has helped me understand the commitment of my parents and grandparent and their friends who made Remembrance Day an important occasion to remember their friends, and the childhood friends of their children who had left Canada to fight in Europe and the Far East.
John McCrae probably still says it best:
“We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we through
The Torch; be yours to hold it high.”
Our youth have grabbed the torch and on Remembrance Day, we can remember them, our generation, and the generations of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
More importantly, we can remember the 133 soldiers who have died serving Canada in Afghanistan.

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