“Is it sunny today? Then we’ve got time for a workout.”
“The boss closed the office for the morning. Maybe we can get a little shopping done: Christmas is coming after all.”
“Well, frankly, those events all happened long before my time.”
Odd the wide range of excuses people sometimes come up with for ignoring Remembrance Day.
And it’s not that they are somehow bad people. Not at all.
Perhaps it’s just that they don’t understand what wearing a poppy, and standing to attention at 11 a.m. once a year on November 11, means.
Maybe they need to be reminded that this small, annual ceremony stands for the 60,000 Canadians who didn’t come home from Europe in World War I. It stands for the 43,000 who didn’t make it back from World War II. For the 516 who fell in Korea. And for the 158 quietly returned to Canada from Afghanistan.
November 11 also stands, in too many ways, for ruined lives, lost dreams, unrealized hopes. “Soldiers,” as poet and decorated World War I officer Siegfried Sassoon once put it, “are citizens of death’s grey land…Soldiers are sworn to action: they must win/ Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives…”
The soldiers huddled in the trenches at Ypres, at Passchendaele, at Vimy Ridge probably didn’t understand the military’s Big Plan. The guys riding the landing crafts onto the beaches at Dieppe and Normandy, or breaking through at Ortona, weren’t asked their opinions on strategy and tactics.
In the hills of Kapyong, Korea, 700 Canadians facing 5,000 Chinese had no time for debating the wisdom of the United Nations coalition. In Kandahar, Afghanistan, our soldiers went out day after day, into the raging heat and hostility to “get the job done.”
Those who have served have done so, in the end, so that the rest of us might be safe. They served to ensure that the horrors, the violence and the ugliness they willingly faced every day would not touch us. Far, far too many of them, kids like Fred Quickfall, didn’t get to come home.
The monuments and cenotaphs in our parks are old, and some of the names listed there are fading. But this Remembrance Day, it might be worth taking the time to recall why those names are there and just what the notion of sacrifice really means.
In his play Billy Bishop Goes to War, John Gray has Canada’s great ace quietly put it this way: “We were daring young men with hearts of gold…And most of us never got old.”
W. Gibb – Leader staff