IT IS REMEMBRANCE DAY

Today is remembrance day…a day to remember. A day to remember those who served and those who served and didn’t return. We have one special day in a year that we set aside to acknowledge, thank and remember those, who went and did things that many are afraid to do. Those who often, despite overwhelming odds, went ahead in the face of unimaginable fear and horror. They went, pushed forward and then stood their ground because of what they believed in. Then pushed some more. They were men and women who fought and died so that future generations wouldn’t have to…so that they might have it a little easier…

The future generations made a promise. A promise to never forget, and to observe two minutes of silence…once a year on November 11th.

The 2018 Remembrance day is special. It is special because this year is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War…the bloodiest war in history up until that point. A war so terrible it was called the war to end all wars…

Yet since then, even though ve have remembered every year, the wars became more frequent and more terrible…

For many years after the end of my military service, I attended Remembrance Day ceremonies. I wore my medals and stood proudly, observed the traditions and thanked those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Then one year I was walking up to the grounds where the ceremony was to take place. Many people and soldiers were walking up to the cenotaph except one… he went the other way. I don’t remember which unit he belonged to but I do remember the only medal on his uniform. It was the General Campaign Star South West Asia…the medal troops get for service in Afghanistan. We walked past each other and our eyes met. I am sure that moment only lasted a second or two but it felt like an eternity then. I was given a glance into the depth of his soul. There was a deep, dark pit, the bottom of which was covered in hurt, pain, suffering. It was a cold, dark and empty place… empty but full of ghosts. My stomach turned. I felt horrible and wanted to cry like a little baby.

Next thing I know the soldier was gone… The crowds finished making their way to the ceremonies and the day went on… Where did he go…? Did he end up being a career soldier? Maybe he left the army and got a regular job…maybe he started a business and gave jobs to hundreds of people. And maybe, next time he trained with his weapon and live ammunition…he shot himself. A sergeant I once knew did that…

After the event, I just wanted to be alone. I went for a coffee. The coffee shop was full. I wanted to make my way to the order counter when I overheard a conversation…she said: ” ….you army guys enjoy getting together to feel sorry for yourselves?” I turned my head in the direction of where that came from and saw a beautiful young woman standing over a soldier seated by himself…facing the entrance, like someone who always expects trouble… The two of them were looking at each other and both appeared like two entities form completely opposite ends of the universe, who met each other for the first time.

I haven’t been to remembrance ceremonies since that year. I just stand and observe from further away. Maybe because I don’t want to see another empty soul. Many say that I am a coward because of that… Maybe I really am a coward, I don’t know. But I am absolutely clear on one thing:

Those of us who did serve don’t really need that one day because we remember every day. Because every day, many of us hear of some soldier who didn’t make it, or some soldier who lost limbs, or some soldier who just could not adjust to civilian life…while the taxes that we pay, for putting our lives on the line in faraway lands, get collected by the state and get handed over to the enemy…as damages for the suffering that we and our allies caused. We know that there are those of us who can’t sleep at night and watch replays…in their minds… of that one time or day when everything changed. But there isn’t enough to help those…

My great-grandfather was also a soldier. He died in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in 1942. His name is on a particular wall in Europe but no one knows where his remains are. He died a young man…

If I faced him today, could I assure him his death was worthwhile? Could I say to him that his sacrifice made the world a better place? Today…when our country is more divided than ever before between the west and the east, between the liberal and the conservative…? When someone who lost his legs on patrol while serving his nation can’t even afford a place to live on the pension he received…? While our basic rights and our way of life are being challenged by our own leaders…? Our leaders who even dictate what we are allowed to be afraid of…?

Soldiers have a unique perspective in Canadian society. It is always amusing watching the confusion on a veteran’s face when a civilian begins to describe with absolute conviction what suffering is… And it is this unique perspective, once we all realize that the fight isn’t over just because the bullets stopped flying, that will allow us to carry on. Knowing that we’ve been the best and seen the worst. So on this one-hundred year anniversary of the end of the first world war, let the veterans remember. Remember that it is you who stands tall and proud and it is you who has earned a special place on the pedestal of honour. And there is NO ONE who has ANY right to judge you or the decisions you have made if they have not walked in your combat boots.

When the flag draped caskets are carried off and when we watch mothers cry because their sons aren’t coming home, the words “Thank You” seem to be the most pathetic in the English language.

I salute you all…

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