By John Swartz
This will not be a normal Remembrance Day. The hundreds who have gone to Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital for the observance in the past won’t be showing up. This does not mean we get a pass on observing this year.
I never had to put on a uniform and pick up a gun. I have my father and several uncles to thank for that, and the mothers and fathers of everyone else my age. For younger folk, it’s your grandfathers and grandmothers you should thank. They served so you and I wouldn’t have to.
I was too old for Bosnia, too old for Afghanistan, and I’m too old for the next conflict. The generations behind me went instead. My career has given me an opportunity to hear first hand stories from those who came back. Some of them are humourous. I suppose those people don’t really want to talk about what they experienced, the bad part. But, I have also seen men older than me break down while telling their stories.
I never gave much thought to what those who had to fight went through, because it wasn’t personal – until I sat in the opposite chair and saw the tears some could not hold back.
I have been to many Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Cenotaph at Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. The vets are always lined up in the back in front of the hospital doors. Most people gathered to observe can’t see them except as they pass by in the parade to their place, and as they march out. They don’t see what I got to see year after year. Maybe next year a way can be found so the remaining few aren’t hidden.
They are old men, some barely able to stand; others stand through the ceremony for a longer period of time than they have been used for many years. I see them stand up straighter than they otherwise might at the legion, or a coffee shop, or elsewhere. They stand at attention like they were taught when they were teenagers.
It’s only for 45 minutes or so, but they endure the discomfort, because they endured much more in their past life. And some of them will reach up and wipe at their faces. You, standing in the drive below, don’t see it, but I have. They are wipe away tears.
They have seen things most of us haven’t and never will. They have lost brothers, maybe fathers, best friends, buddies from their units. Sometimes those were lost in another battle on a different field, other times it was the guy just next to them.
It’s not just the soldiers. Others carried wounds through the years, but those were in the heart and in the mind. Mothers, sisters, wives who never got to say goodbye except at the train station many months or years before. Some received broken men back to their homes.
There were father’s whose sons were never going to take over the family business. Imagine losing your son or daughter like that. It’s a burden which lasts a lifetime, or what’s left of it.
The whole nation had their sacrifices too as industry turned to war production and people came in off the farms to work the line. Those who the army wouldn’t take put their time in on those lines too. Everyone sacrificed something. Their lives were forever disrupted.
I can’t imagine because, like I said, I never had to go to war. There are four generations of Canadians who know nothing about what it means for the entire country to go to war like it did in World War Two.
We must remember.
We must never forget.
A ceremony was taped last month and Rogers TV will show it November 11 at 10:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Remembrance Day 2019