OPINION: Remember the living as well as the dead
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, we pause to remember the soldiers who gave their lives to protect our country and our ideals. They made the ultimate sacrifice for each of us to have the freedoms we value as Canadians. Whether you agree with sending our troops into conflict – whether it’s any of our business or the right use of taxpayers’ money – I hope you would agree that bravery and dedication to following orders has made our Canadian Forces one of the most respected in the world.
Do you take the time to remember those who came home alive? Those who returned from combat or peacekeeping missions, alive but not the same people who left to serve?
Each year on Remembrance Day, I think of those who came home with both light and dark memories, with physical scars that may heal on the surface but often hide pain few of us can understand who have never been away from home in dangerous places facing dangerous situations.
I remember Remy. He was small of stature but big of heart. In his rhythmic French-Canadian accent, he’d share stories of the landing at Dieppe in World War II. Not a successful mission for the Allies by any definition of success. He’d speak of the horror on the beach quietly and immediately follow it with a funny story about being a prisoner of war. He found humour in some of the strangest places. His stories were worthy of The Great Escape or Stalag 17. He spoke of being handcuffed by the enemy when he was captured on the beach, handcuffs that stayed on the Canadian prisoners for a long time. Remy told of attempted prison breaks like a practiced stand-up comedian. At least he was funny until he came to the part of the story where he had to witness the execution of two fellow prisoners who had escaped and been recaptured. It was supposed to be a lesson to others not to attempt any further escapes. It didn’t convince the Canadians of anything except they were right to be fighting.
I remember Les. He was a tall, willowy man who served in an armoured regiment and was at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in World War II. He was kind and sensitive. He spoke of the day his division was travelling through the Italian countryside and they came upon a dead mare with her small foal standing, wounded, next to her mother. Battle-weary, the Canadians gathered up the foal and tucked her into their tank. That foal traveled with them through Italy and on to Holland. When they were leaving Europe to come home, they snuck her onto the ship and tended her most silently across the ocean. That foal’s heritage is still present today in some of the horses of Princess Louise’s 8th Canadian Hussars.
Remy and Les are no longer with us but from old age, not the ravages of war. Each had stories in their souls that no one will ever know, except those soldiers who were with them in the journeys through Europe in the 1940s.
I remember Ken, a smiling, spiritual man who used his religious beliefs to guide and nurture others. He was posted to Cyprus as part of a peacekeeping mission. It was a mission that left him not knowing himself, having been battered emotionally and mentally. As part of his duties, he was required to attend ‘lawful’ executions and monitor them. This peaceful man was never the same. He had lost his heart and his soul.
And I’ll remember Greg (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy). Greg was in Afghanistan. It was conflict that many Canadians didn’t understand and often didn’t support. It wasn’t clear; it wasn’t concise. But for those on the ground, it was filthy, bloody and dangerous. Greg came home wounded after his vehicle struck an IED (improvised explosive device). Greg is carrying more than just his physical wounds; he’s got remnants of the experience in his mind and marrow. Not everyone survived that day.
Take the time to think about those soldiers who made it home alive, forever scarred; not just on November 11th, think about them when you get to express an unpopular opinion, when you get to make choices, when you hug your family. They’ll wear their sacrifice much longer than you can possibly imagine.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Our Clinic.
Our Clinic delivers their unique Veterans and First Responders Program focused on veterans and their often complex health needs. Our Clinic delivers full spectrum, total health care and has assembled a strong and experienced medical team in its unique, multi-disciplinary healthcare centre located in London, Ontario.