Lest we forget

In my part of the world tomorrow is Remembrance Day. A day to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

My grandfather sacrificed his life to World War II. I say that he sacrificed his life because, although he returned, I think it’s fair to say he was never the same. I think the things he saw and experienced prevented him from being the person he could have been. I believe he spent the rest of his life battling the demons that chased him home. I remember as a child wondering why Pappy got so grumpy sometimes. Now, as an adult who is a little more aware of the horrors he must have endured, I wonder how was he was not grumpy every second of every day?

In his last years, as he was descending into the dark abyss of Alzheimer’s, he still relived his war days as memories that confused themselves with reality in his cloudy consciousness. He never spoke much of his wartime life with me as a kid. In fact, as I got older, on one of my annual Remembrance Day phone calls with him,  I recall asking why he didn’t attend a ceremony and his response shook me; he said “because I don’t want to remember”.

I think it’s important and necessary to point out that not all of his memories were bad. Mr C. giggled, when he asked my grandfather what he did on his leaves during the war and my grandfather smiled a sly smile giving a quiet answer that spoke of alcohol and women. I blushed and my grandmother, who met and married him after the war chastised him as he gave Mr. C. a little wink. I think as he spiraled deeper and the illness took a tight grip on his mind his soul protected itself by remembering the good; the men who fought alongside him, the friendships, the camaraderie.

My grandfather is gone now. He passed away almost 4 years ago, the day Mr. T. was baptized. The only indications of the years that ultimately shaped his life are short notes written in his tiny black bible  given to him right before he left “Mum,I hate it here. I just want to come home” he wrote. Pamphlets given to him by his government upon his return “Your return to Civvy Street” conveyed the expectation that he was just supposed to return to life as normal.  Medals and a uniform he left locked away from our eyes and his.

While I wish I would have had more time with him as an adult to delve deeper into who he was, I take comfort in the thought that his demons are no longer chasing him.

Tomorrow, I plan to take my children to a Remembrance Day Ceremony in our city. A parade of veterans through the main street, speeches, readings all culminating in a moment of silence. It is my small way of saying thank you to those who have lost their lives in service. It is my way of keeping my grandfathers memory in the lives of my children.

There has been some controversy in our greater city area in regards to parents choosing to remove their children from school during Remembrance Day ceremonies and some schools cancelling the ceremonies altogether. As you can imagine, I think this is utterly disrespectful and so insulting to all those men and women who have given their all in times of great need. You are doing your children such a disservice by not teaching them this part of our history, our heritage.

As proud as I am of my Grandfather for the sacrifices he made, for purely selfish reasons I hope my children don’t ever join the military. Although it needs to be said that if they so choose, my heart will simultaneously break and swell with pride. I wish that none of our children ever had to go off to war.

I will teach my children to pay their respects on Remembrance Day. I will ensure that my children learn of the history and honour those who have served and continue to serve us.

I leave you with this powerful poem written by A. Lawrence Vaincourt and I hope that you all make time for one minute of silence tomorrow in memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure your freedoms.

JUST A COMMON SOLDIER

By A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land,
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives,
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honour while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

©1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

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