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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Remembrance Day means a little more today.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Remembrance Day was the day when you got dressed in your guide or scout uniform, bare knees freezing, and lined up with all of the nice old veterans for the town parade. We walked down from the Legion around Reuben Street and up Prescott to the cenotaph on the front lawn of the high school. It wasn’t a long walk but it felt like it to a kid. The ceremony itself wasn’t long either. Again, it feels longer when you have bare kneecaps. We sang some hymns, one of the school kids would read the Flanders Field poem, we’d sing some more, say a few prayers, have a moment of silence, lay some wreaths, march back to the Legion. That day was important because it was meant to remind us of the sacrifices made years and years ago, in far away, long ago wars. We studied their significance and went through the motions but we had very little personal reference to what we were supposedly remembering.
But somewhere along the way, it all changed. I remember the day I walked my little girls over to the cenotaph and saw a sea of uniforms. A bus had arrived from Petawawa and hundreds of soldiers had come to share the solemn ceremony with us. It was an awesome sight. I realized I recognized one of them. A boy I went to highschool with, Ken Kerouac was in the army and had come home for Remembrance Day. After the ceremony we went to the Legion and I said hello. Later he came back to our house for lunch. He told us about his life and it all seemed so surreal.
I had an uncle who fought in the Second World War and the story was that he was involved in the liberation of a village near Normandy. One November I took it upon myself to give him a call. I thought it would be a nice idea to call him personally and thank him for what he did, all those years ago. He answered the phone and after being reminded of who I was he said he wasn’t planning to march with the other veterans in his local parade. He didn’t like that sort of thing, he said. He didn’t like to be reminded. He planned to go deer hunting that day instead.
Over the next few years we had friends marry into the military, and realized it meant something different than it used to. There is far more risk involved. War is recent. War is now for some people.
Today we have young soldiers marching with the old on November 11th. And particularly since September 11, 2001, it has taken on a whole new meaning for most of us.
Friends of ours had a son in the military, and they lost him. Not to war, but to mental illness. I don’t know if he struggled with mental issues his whole life, or if it came about as a result of what he had seen and been through as an adult.
I have another friend who suffered at the hands of an abusive father his whole life; unfortunately he grew up to be just as abusive to his own wife. I see the old man in his military uniform and I just think it’s sad.
I’m not saying war ruins everyone who serves. I’m sure many manage to escape unscathed, untouched by the dark, negative forces that permeate every aspect of battle, and serving in war-torn areas. But for some, it causes irreparable damage. Cracks form inside. You can’t see them, but they are there. Their families know it. Sons, brothers, husbands come home changed. Their families are tasked with the responsibility then of bringing them back to reality, back to life.
If you still feel a little out of touch with Remembrance Day, take a moment to browse through the website tabs at Veterans’ Affairs Canada. We have Canadians dealing with war injuries, mental health issues, difficulty in transitioning from military to civilian life. Some of our homeless people are veterans of war who were unable to assimilate to civilian life upon returning from battle.  
No matter what your stance is on our involvement in military activity, we all need to take a moment on November 11th to consider the sacrifices being made, in the past, and today.

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