Lest we forget

Every once in a while, somebody else’s words can send a message better than your own. I have an emotional attachment to Remembrance day. My grandfather served, and my dad brought me up with a high respect of our veterans. Four years ago I worked with the Memory Project, an online archive that interviewed Second World War veterans and collected their stories for prosperity. I remember crying on my first day.

As much as I would love to share my experiences, I don’t think it would mean as much as the following.

Here are the words of Peter DeClerq, guest blogger:

Today is Remembrance Day. It brings many thoughts to my mind. The pain and suffering that these men and women went through in conflicts around the world is one. For most you would never know they suffered. But suffer they did. Not in the cruel way wars makes us suffer, the death, the mud, the cold, the lack of sleep, the physical wariness, but in far worse ways, in memories.

My father died from cancer just at the end of 1999. We knew he served, and heard some of the “war stories.” During his retirement, he wrote. He penned articles about some of his stories – we were sure some were fictional, and some were embellished. But he never really talked about it, keeping it buried inside of him. That was until the morphine drip started at the end of his life. The real stories, the real ugliness of what he and so many others went through came out in drug induced dreams. There is nothing like holding your fathers hand, as he is fast asleep, trying to wake him, as he sweats and talks out loud. “Charlie, Freddie get to the foxhole” he would yell out. “They’re coming”. At first I was confused, but then I realized he was reliving his worse moments, all as he died. There were other snippets of sentences in the days before he finally succumbed to the cancer. Some relating to that foxhole, some relating to “Charlie” who I can only presume died. I like to say I knew who Charlie was to my father, to cause such strong memories. I don’t. It was never a name that I heard before.

My father use to volunteer for the Legion, going into classrooms on this day to talk with kids. He never talked about the glories of war – he spoke about friendship. He talked with humour, and he talked about how he wished, prayed that no one would go through what him and his comrades had to go through ever again.

This brings me to Hans. I had the privilege to talk to Hans when I worked in a retirement home. Around one Remembrance Day I was chatting with him, and we got into a great conversation. Hans wasn’t a solider in the sense we think. He was very young at the time of the war and lived in occupied Netherlands. He joined the Dutch resistance. Like my father, Hans didn’t talk much about the glories of what they did, but in conversation he said something remarkable and yet so terrifying that it will forever remain in my mind. In essence, it was that the year the war broke out, of the 20 classmates in his class, only 4 of them were still alive. Two out of 10 alive. These weren’t soldiers who died, these were young boys and girls that tried to protect the ones they loved, or were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

So with this being Remembrance Day, I want you to think about these stories. I want you to take the two minutes at 11am and in silence think about my father, and be thankful that you don’t have to keep terrifying secrets. I want you to look around the room at your classmates and workmates, and think what life would be like if 8 of them weren’t there. This, in my mind, is the true purpose of Remembrance Day.  Because if you were born in another time, if you were 16-18 or 20-25, you could be having those memories in years to come. If you were 30-50 in another time you could be without a father or mother, a brother, a sister, or a friend. That is why we take two minutes. So stop your meeting, stop your class, stop what you’re doing and take two minutes to think about those that lived through these times, so the eight people around you are still there.

 

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