My Very Un-Military Reflections
of Remembrance Day 1998

Written by Patricia Fowler

A s I look around the auditorium of a local High School, I am heartened to see many families with young children attending Remembrance Day Services. I meet a young girl whom I cared for in her preschool years, who mimics the adults in her life when I ask her about Remembrance Day. However, when I ask what freedom means to her I realize that she understands exactly what's going on. "It means I get to make my own choices, when Mommy and Daddy let me."

T he busy President of our local Legion, Branch 277, coordinating the entire event, takes time to personally greet my husband and I. He thanks us again for setting up and hosting an unofficial Internet Web Site for the Branch, as our way of saying thank you to our local Veterans. It is our privilege.

A ll front row seats are reserved for our Veterans and their families. The general public, upon noticing anyone with gray hair standing, offers their seat to them. It is an auditorium full of love, respect and appreciation.

T he white memorial cenotaph stands at the front of the auditorium, around which four Junior Cadets stand at attention, heads bowed, holding their guns so that the muzzle rests on the floor.

A hush falls over the crowd, as the Honour Guards, led by our Veterans, march regally into the auditorium. As the RCMP Pipe Band begins to play, I notice a tear on the faces of those witnessing the event.

T here are Honour Parties, representing all levels of the Scouting and Girl Guide Movement, Junior Forest Rangers, Peace Keepers, EMR, R.C.M.P., and of course our beloved Veterans, on the main floor, facing the Memorial Cenotaph.

A fter prayers are said, each honour group and others representing various community interests lay wreaths at the foot of the Memorial Cenotaph. Everyone takes notice as the Scoutmaster allows his children to lay their wreaths, mistakes and all, and praises each one for their honest effort. Even the youngest child senses the solemnity of the occasion and squirms to attention.

T he Junior cadets guarding the cenotaph faint, overwhelmed from the heat and intensity of moment, frustrated for being human, admired for being sincere.

W hile watching her daughter lay a wreath, a woman nearby begins to weep. I try to comfort her, but she can not be consoled. As I escort her outside for some air, I learn that her father, a Veteran of WWII, recently passed away. As she stood watching her daughter lay a wreath at the cenotaph, she thought of how proud her father would have been to see his grand-daughter doing so and felt overwhelmed at his passing again. Remembrance Day had always been such a special day for him. When she regains her composure, we return to the auditorium, though I notice she remains withdrawn for the rest of the ceremony. I'm reminded how much each soldier's family sacrifices for the greater good of all Canada.

A s the official procession exits the auditorium the audience rises to their feet and salutes them with thunderous applause that is heard over the bagpipes. The crowd follows them to the Memorial Cenotaph in front of the County Buildings a block away where another wreath is lain, symbolizing the respect and gratitude of a very fortunate country. The procession continues on to a Cemetery on the edge of town but I can not attend this part of the ceremony, as I am overwhelmed.

P rior to the ceremonies, I summarized Colonel Eric W. Cormack's recollections of World War I, carefully guarding the integrity of his thoughts to present on Branch 277's webpage named in his honor. Through his humble yet honest recollections I have come to know this honorable man whom I've never met. As I watch the Honour Guard march proudly by, I see the Colonel, at the age he was when experiencing World War I in the young faces of the Peace Keepers. The magnitude of his valour hits me and I begin to cry and the solution to something I have been wrestling with becomes crystal clear. In my summary, I won't include the despicable actions of a superior officer towards the then very young Lieutenant Eric W. Cormack, during his service in WW I. The unscrupulous superior officer does not deserve to share the same space as this remarkable man. Yes there are politics in the military, as there is in every other walk of life, but I resolve that nothing will detract from the spirited commitment and courageous actions of our Veterans as I relate them on my Webpage, "Canadian Heroes".

I n the afternoon, we arrive at The Colonel Eric W. Cormack Branch 277 of the Royal Canadian Legion to find the place teaming with all manner of uniformed soldiers. A huge buffet table boasts mountains of homemade donated goodies.

W e are greeted by the branch President, still busy and full of carefully laid plans. He introduces us to our host for the afternoon, a member of the Legion council responsible along with The Calgary Lord Strathcona Light Horse regiment and a local Peace Keeper for organizing the UN Wall, proudly displayed in the Legion. He proudly describes how they painstakingly acquired the appropriate components for the wall, how important the UN Wall is and how it relates to the members of his Legion. The UN Wall heralds the valor of all our fallen patriots during two World Wars, Korea, and all Canada's Peace Keeping missions. The Legion 277 is one of the first Legion branches to dedicate a wall in their memory.

A nother display also catches my attention. Along the wall, nestled beside the fireplace, stands a table for two, covered with a lace tablecloth. The table is formally set with wine glasses and all the appropriate accoutrements. A bud vase sits in the middle of the table, and in place of a rose, there is a small Canadian and English flag placed inside. It touches me deeply When I learn that the table is forever reserved and waiting for their fallen comrades to return it touches me deeply. The best way for me to describe it's loving intent is to offer my humble host's personal history as a prime example.

U pon some gentle, albeit, persistent prodding on my part, he reassures me once again, that his personal story of service to his country is not one I would be interested in but graciously concedes to tell me why.

I n World War II, just prior to his first posting he became ill and missed seeing action, receiving a medical discharge as he watched his comrades leave for Europe. Once he recovered, he re-enlisted in the Army and went through training again, this time for Jungle Warfare, for a posting to Japan. Just as he was deployed, he fell ill again and was medically discharged as his comrades left for the South Pacific. Upon this recovery, the war was over. "So you see I'm not one of the heroes you are looking for."

H e considers defending his country a duty and an honor and feels cheated to this day, that he wasn't able to do his part in the war. On his chest he wears many medals and awards that he has earned from a lifetime of dedication to the Legion. He has spent a lifetime ensuring that those who fought are honored and remembered.

T he fact that he enlisted, was willing and waited to be posted into action, twice, carries with it, it's own stress and special brand of courage. That he was discharged twice, just after receiving word of deployment, carries with it it's own pain, which has stayed with him a lifetime. That he has worked tirelessly in honor of those who did what he so dearly wanted and tried to do, reveals a uncommon valour that is akin only to that of his comrades. He is a Hero to me and I tell him so. He also comes from a close knit, Military Family. His Father fought at Vimy Ridge in WWI. A generation later, while he was in the Army, two of his brothers were in the Airforce and another one was in the Navy.

W e are introduced to a gentleman, the graceful age of our WWII Vets, as he sits alone at a table, waiting for his daughter to pick him up. He becomes animated as he talks about his comrades in World War II. It has been our experience that Veterans hesitate to talk about themselves. When asked they graciously demur and decline comment. "I didn't do anything special, but let me tell you about a buddy of mine..." OR "Gosh, I'm no hero, I was just there with everybody else."

H e sadly tells us that he has seen a few things while serving in the War, but doesn't like to talk about them. Before the subject is changed he confides to us that he still can't get over all the death he saw while he served. He was a machine gunner and expounds his views on how heavy the gun became after miles and miles of marching. As he shows us an example of the gun he carried hanging on the wall of the Legion, I am surprised to learn that the gun is as long as I am tall and weighs about the same. He has fond memories of the camaraderie between the allied troops towards each other even though they were from different countries.

T owards the end of the afternoon, as I stand suffering from information overload, I see the young Peace Keeper, who has been cheerfully chatting with many people during the afternoon, finally standing alone. I seize the opportunity to talk with him. While being married with a young family, he has been posted to many of the hot spots in the world during his relatively short tenure in the Army. He confides to us that often in his experience as a Peace Keeper, the best weapon is stellar communication skills. He cites one occasion when encountering a band of well-armed, very tense guerillas where he chose to lay down his arms and talk his way through the situation. In his experience, a cool head, thoughtful consideration, and basic respect is much more effective than force is to diffuse some situations. Although he admits, "sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference until after the situation is over".

T here are two types of Peace Keepers; those who go into a country to protect the citizens, and those who go into a country to protect the United Nations Military Observers (UNMO). The UNMO's are unarmed Peace Makers. Protecting the UNMOs carries with it a unique set of problems as the peace in that region is still very unstable. On the other hand, protecting the citizens in a country where peace has been declared, is more straight forward. "Once they realize your mandate they cooperate with you."

W hen he's at home, he goes out to the schools to talk with kids about his Peace Keeping missions. The kids ask him many interesting questions. Often he goes prepared to talk about one aspect of his job that he feels will interest that age group only to end up talking about something different in response to their questions.

T hrough my '98 Remembrance Day experience, "Lest We Forget" is redefined to mean we will never forget, Thanks to you, our esteemed Veterans and Peace Keepers we have never had war on our soil.

You define who we are as Canadians.

Back Click on the Canada Goose
and follow it back to the Library

Copyright (c) 1997-2000 - Pat Fowler