The Canadian government has declared 2005 the Year of The Veteran. All year long from coast to coast and continent to continent the Canadian people have commemorated the contributions and the sacrifices of those heroes who fought in the name of freedom. This is a special year to officially recognize all our veterans young and old who fought for peace and still fight to maintain it. The ceremonies and remembrances are as diverse as the people that make up this large country.
Aboriginal veterans’ organizations and the Assembly of First Nations have undertaken a spiritual journey to European shores to honour the sacrifices made by Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis warriors. At each place of resting they performed the Calling Home Ceremony and on their return home they will continue the spiritual ceremonies to receive the spirits of fallen warriors who answered the song of the pipes.
Work continues on the restoration of deteriorating war monuments in France and Belgium. The monument commemorating the loss of more than 11,000 WWI soldiers at Vimy Ridge is currently being restored brick by brick in an effort the workers call “a labour of love”.
The Canadian mint has released commemorative and circulation coins in honour of all those who serve. The design depicts two profiles, one young and one old, to honour not just the veterans of WWI, WWII and the Korean War but also those who have served in places like Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, fostering peace and freedom on behalf of Canada.
Veterans’ organizations are searching out the resting places of those who served their country to place commemorative maple leafs on their stones. Canadians have sailed and feted, skated and danced all in celebration and remembrance of those who have graced this land with their bravery and their sacrifice. Plaques have been unveiled and wreaths have been laid. Newspapers daily recount the heroics and tragedies of the local boys gone off to war, those who returned and those who did not.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we remember Canadians who served in the name of freedom. We remember the 600,000 Canadian soldiers who volunteered to serve overseas during the First World War (1914-1918). We remember the more than one million men and women from Canada who served during the Second World War (1939-1945). We remember the over 26,000 Canadians who served in Korea (1950-1953). And though it is much debated and not often mentioned we remember the over 30,000 Canadians who chose to cross the border and fight in the jungles of Vietnam.
In my household on November 11th we pay special homage to the late John “Jack” Flynn. Affectionately known as “Pop”, Jack was my husband’s grandfather. Born in Britain, Jack and his wife Lil would immigrate to Canada with their 3 daughters on one of the last ocean liners to make that regular trip. Jack’s older brother served in the First World War and, despite his brother’s advice, Jack enlisted to serve in the Second World War.
He didn’t often speak about his war experiences, he did not see war as something to glorify. When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” debuted he was asked if he intended to see it. His answer was a firm no…He had seen enough of the real thing, why would he want to see a movie about it? Jack was there the day after they bombed Dresden. He said it had been leveled to such an extent that one would be hard pressed to know that just the day before there had been a city there. He spoke about the air raids and families hiding in the Underground. One of the saddest stories he remembered was the mother who had gone back to her house for her baby’s bottle never to be seen alive again.
Jack was one of the gentlest people I’d ever met. He carried his scars from that experience close but he enjoyed life to its fullest. When he left this world in his 88th year he headed home to the arms of his wife Lil, who had gone ahead several years before. He was a great man and the freedom that he fought for is a gift and a monumental legacy to be shared by not just his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren but the entire world.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– John McCrae