The process of remembrance

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year, citizens across Canada pause for a minute of silence. Brock University will be holding a Remembrance Day ceremony, and as such the staff at The Brock Press have decided to reflect further in the form of these descriptions of their personal experiences with veterans, the war and the peace that veterans have risked and given their lives for.

Protectors and the peace

As the first generation of my family to be a Canadian-born citizen, Remembrance Day brings feelings of pride, courage and freedom, but also of struggle, suffering and death.

From 1975–1979, the communist Khmer Rouge regime was the ruling party over Cambodia, where my parents are from. Their primary goal while in governance was to “purify the population,” killing off anyone with education and intellect, professions, ethnic and religious affiliations, similar to the goals of Nazi Germany.

It is also hauntingly known as the Cambodian Holocaust or the Cambodian Genocide, made popular by the 1984 film The Killing Fields, in which the closing scene ends with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” arguably one of the most poignant scenes in cinematic history.

While it may be difficult to believe that these horrific few years happened not too long ago, and shook Cambodia and the world with fear and terror. Nearly two million lives were senselessly and unfairly lost.

My parents were the lucky ones, managing not to step on any of the thousands of land-mines planted in the forests, able to escape the gruesome torture camps and prisons through the dark nights and into the safe hands of the United Nations (UN). They ran for freedom, but more importantly, they ran for my future.

They immigrated in the early 80s and built a life here, happily calling Canada home. Though far away from the warfare in time and in distance, the nightmare is still ever so present in memory.

Remembrance Day brings me a sense of reflection and gratefulness. Every year, when Nov. 11 comes arrives, I remember all the soldiers and veterans who fought for Canada’s freedom, and also my parents who ultimately fought for my freedom — so that I could be born and raised in a nation of peace.

Remember voices, not echoes

Tom Brant WW1The last World War One veteran from Canada died in 2010 at the age of 109. That means that a bloody, influential and destructive war exists only in passed-on verbal histories and the pages of textbooks and biographies.

We’ve run out of time to actually ask questions and learn from the generation that fought in the War, and there will never be any new first hand stories told about individual experiences. Naturally, the same will happen for World War Two and all generations, in time.

Therefore, when searching through my grandmother’s attic the other day and finding the diary of my great grandfather Thomas Brant, it gave me a thrill as overwhelming as finding the Titanic, or discovering an Egyptian tomb. It was no longer world history — this was my family history.

In the journal, Brant discusses his time serving in the British Military during WWI, he described his experience in the battle of Somme, as well as the most mundane of occurrences like his excitement in receiving new rations of things as simple as a new pair of socks. The worn out pages of this pocket-sized journal were a living, breathing portal into understanding what conflict and wartime looks like on a human level, rather than a sociopolitical lens.

Brant was lucky enough to make it back to Canada after the war, but still sustained major lung issues from being exposed to mustard gas.

While all soldiers and defenders of peace may not have journals that made it home, that simply puts a greater onus on those with first hand experiences to tell their stories, and for us at home to be willing to listen.

Remembrance Day should not simply be limited to thinking about the generic idea of the soldier who fought for freedom, but also reflecting on the individuals involved. While it may be too late to talk to WWI veterans, it’s not too late to seek out veterans of WWII, Iraq or Afghanistan. I believe that human history should be exactly that: human.

The struggle is far from over

Credit: The Brock Press/Christy Mitchell

Credit: The Brock Press/Christy Mitchell

We remember the courage that soldiers displayed during WWI and WWII, realizing that many sacrificed their dreams to defend this country. We remember the fallen, their journey and experiences in the war as heroic acts in defence of the freedom of future generations. We remember their struggles, mental, physical and emotional, as they barricaded themselves in the trenches and prepared themselves for combat on the battleground. We remember how their families must have felt when news reached them of their soldier’s death.

However, we often dismiss the stories of those who return home.

There is a certain discourse we practice for the soldiers that make it out alive, congratulating them on their feats and successes. We see their relief to be back in the homeland, away from the lifestyle that war and combat inevitably come with. We see them happily uniting with their loved ones and returning to their normal lives. What we don’t see, though, are their internal struggles.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has become more prevalent than ever before, with more Canadian soldiers perishing from suicide than combat in Afghanistan, according to September 2014 statistics from the Ministry of Defence. One can only imagine what it’s like to try to get back to a normal routine following a war experience. Images, memories, last words and lost friends may easily haunt a soldier’s memory, making it difficult to be able to transition back into their previous life in Canada. As mental health and wellness continues to become a more important issue in our society, the realization that the soldiers who make it back alive are far from the end of their battle is quite haunting. If anything, the struggle to stay alive becomes more difficult back at home.

I wear my poppy to remember the fallen and the veterans, from past and present wars. I wear it to remember their bravery in times that helplessness may have overcome their minds. But equally, I wear my poppy to remember the psychological wounds that can take the life of a soldier as easily can a gun in the hands of an enemy.

From land to sky

Jack SloanTo me, Remembrance Day has always been about paying heed to those who risked and sacrificed their lives to fight for our country’s peace and freedom. Whether they pass away too soon or live for long after, or whether they are still fighting or are currently training to fight, I think it’s important to recognize what these individuals give up in order to provide us with the freedom we have and the freedom that subsequent generations will inherit.

I don’t have any relatives or loved ones who served in any of the wars, but my neighbour, Jack Sloan, is a war-hero that I personally came to know.

He served his country faithfully in the air force during the Cold War years and retired safely at 46 years of age. He later married Nancy, who still lives next door to me. Jack has since passed away, but being from a small town, he left a local hero and each Remembrance Day, he is recognized for his leadership and skills as a flight control officer of the Allied missions.

After retiring from the Air Force, Jack used his medical school education to become a chiropractor in Port Colborne, but has always been commended for his dedication and love for serving in the Canadian Military and playing such an important role during the war.

I was young at the time, but losing Jack was hard for the entire neighbourhood, and of course, for his wife. He was always willing to help anyone on the street with any house work, and though he had a stern demeanour, he always made a point to have fun and play games with me and my sisters when we were young. He was not only a hero in the military but a hero in all aspects of life. His dedication and hard work prevailed through the remaining years of his life, even after his service.

He is certainly worthy of recognition as he was willing to be redeployed during his military career, having to completely uproot his life knowing the country needed him elsewhere, simply because he believed it was required of him. That’s the kind of soldier he was: truly dedicated to the improvement and safety of his country, friends and family.

Though Jack’s passing comes long after his service in the military, to me, that’s what Remembrance Day is about: recognizing our military heroes on both small and large scales. I see the respect and love that Nancy still has for her late husband and I have seen the respect and gratitude towards Jack from the community as a whole. I’m grateful to have known someone who was so highly regarded in Canada’s military.

This Remembrance Day, I will take the time to think of my neighbour Jack, how he stood in as a hero both in the military and within my own community. It’s people like him and their hard work that need to be recognized, as they are the ones who have given us the freedoms we enjoy today.

The world of sport pays tribute

Canadian-Forces-59When I think of Remembrance Day, I think of thousands of individuals that sacrificed their lives for the better of mine today. I think about how lucky I am to be brought up in such a secure country. Being a die-hard sports fan, I think it’s important to relate how sports at all levels have begun over the course of the last couple of decades to really give back to those individuals who sacrifice their lives in order to keep Canada secure everyday.

A lot of people find it rather disgusting how much professional athletes get paid, when you put their jobs in comparison to those that are day in and day out risking their lives for the freedom of others. This is something that I couldn’t agree with more. However, I think professional sports have done a great job over the past several years to really give back, and show their appreciation to many individuals that “stand on guard for thee.”

In the NFL, November is a month dedicated to honouring the troops, where several teams, coaches, fans, as well locations on the field are all decked out in camouflage attire in honour of the troops.

The Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffery Lupul started a campaign called “Lupe’s troops” where he invites a different member of the Canadian Army to every game, and they are honoured with a standing ovation from the crowd during a commercial break. As well, almost every single professional, junior, and even collegiate sport teams conduct a Remembrance Day ceremony to honour the military and the troops going back to WWI and WWII during their last home game before Nov. 11. The Brock women’s hockey team took part in this on Nov. 9 at the Seymour Hannah Centre.

With sports being such a big part of so many individuals’ lives on a daily basis, they have the power to impact, and touch people in such a strong way, and it’s great to see how much they are involved and observant of this annual day of remembrance.

Why I remember

LUFT III - widok z góry (1)My grandfather was 21-years-old when World War II broke out. He was studying English as a university student in Montreal, hoping to become a journalist, and like most young men his age he signed up to fight.

He enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force and after a few months of intense training he was given his wings to navigate an RAF Lancaster heavy bomber over Germany.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but during a bombing run over Holland his plane was shot down and somehow he survived, with his leg badly injured.

Running for his life from German infantry, he found himself in an empty little town somewhere in occupied Holland. Maybe it was just luck but passing a house there was a young woman standing outside her front door – she recognized immediately what he was, a downed airmen.

Her name was Ann der wert, and she quickly opened the door to let him in – sheltering a downed airman meant immediate death if the Gestapo caught you.

Her family was courageous for what they did, hiding him for four months as she nursed his leg back to health and devised an escape plan for my grandfather to get back to allied lines.

He left the house in the calm of a foggy and moonless night.

Unfortunately, he read her plans wrong and took a wrong path to a farm house where the Gestapo was waiting.

They tortured him. We don’t know why, but to this day they were somehow convinced in the end that he wasn’t a spy, that he was a downed airman.

The Gestapo put him on a POW truck and sent him to Stalag Luft III in Lower Silesia near the Polish town of Zagan.

The POW camp was reserved for allied servicemen. You might also recognize the name of the camp as the place where the Great Escape took place.

It was mostly the Canadians and the British, although some Americans took part, building a complicated network of three tunnels beneath the camp to escape the prison.

They completely fooled the German guards, who realized 75 too late that prisoners were missing. Only three managed to get back to the front lines, fifty were lined up against a wall and shot and the rest were put back in prison.

My grandfather wasn’t one of them, but he managed to survive the remainder of the war.

I tell you this story not just because it’s personal, but to remember the war, to remember what our parents and grandparents did to destroy tyranny in the world at the time. We are in grave risk of forgetting this history and what exactly was at stake if we fail to remember the individual sacrifices, patriotism and commitment of those who fought.

If you have any stories of your own that you feel deserve to be shared, please tweet @thebrockpress #remembrance and let us know about your own experiences, memories and traditions by which you remember those who fought for Canada’s freedom.

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