In tribute to the lost, the wounded and their families on Remembrance Day in Ottawa
At just past 11 a.m. on November 11th, four jets thundered over the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa, an unmistakable signal that the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month had arrived.
Despite the snow and cold, the crowds sprawled down Elgin Street, packed themselves into narrow Sparks Street and stood atop every perch, every good vantage taken.
What was once a sombre celebration marking the Armistice that ended the First World War has become somewhat grander over the intervening 95 years, now replete with marching bands, choirs, the Virtual Wall of Honour and Remembrance, and row upon row of veterans young and old, veterans of more conflicts than anyone would have wanted to predict at the close of the war to end all wars.
Approximately 35,000 Canadians attended the ceremony—from all over. They came to remember and commemorate the more than 116,000 Canadians who left home to fight for their country and never returned.
The ceremony was intense, flawless.
The jets roared overhead just as Legion Dominion President Gordon Moore recited the lines from the Act of Remembrance, which end with: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
The act was then read in French by Legion Grand President Larry Murray and in the Inuktitut language by Julia Kimmaliardjuk.
“We are so very grateful for the men and women who have gone before us,” Brigadier-General John Fletcher, Chaplain General to the Canadian Armed Forces and Honorary Chaplain of the Legion’s Dominion Command, told the crowd. “For those who gave of themselves to serve our nation so it might be an example of peace and justice for all.”
Dominion Command Honorary Chaplain Rabbi Reuven Bulka later provided the benediction.
As the Ottawa Children’s Choir sang, the viceregal party placed their wreaths. Governor General David Johnston; Silver Cross Mother Niki Psiharis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Lawson, Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella; Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino; Dominion President Gordon Moore; Legion Literary and Poster Contest winners Owen Brown, Ginny Hsiang, Daniela Gallardo and Katelyn Hogan.
Delivering wreaths to the viceregal party were the Legion’s top cadets of the year: Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Lindsay Kehoe, Chief Warrant Officer Srosh Hassan, Warrant Officer 2nd Class Rachèle Paquet.
Psiharis placed a wreath on behalf of all mothers who’ve lost a child in the line of duty. Her son Sergeant Chris Karigiannis was a member of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) who was killed by enemy action in Kandahar in 2007.
The Silver Cross Mother remembers the moment she heard the news of her son’s death. It was like a fire inside her burning her up, she says. And she still feels it now; she’s just learned to live with it.
Among those who came to pay homage are those veterans and serving members who come not just to remember all those thousands, but to honour their friends and comrades who died in the line of duty.
But it wasn’t just the veterans in the large crowd that Canadians came to thank, even if they didn’t know it. Corporal Tyler Falt was the Army Sentry this year, stationed up there just behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Falt, much like Karigiannis, was a member of the 3rd Battalion, PPCLI who served in Afghanistan and was hit by an IED.
Despite having broken his spine, despite the shrapnel that’s still in his head, there Falt was on Nov. 11th in the cold, standing like granite beneath the monument for the entire ceremony, head bowed and thinking of the friends he lost in Afghanistan. “I had a hard time understanding what was going on in the actual ceremony,” he said, “so I had a lot of time in my head, thinking of the friends I had that never came home. It was a very sombre day.”
Falt, 29, is well scarred from his service: fractured spine, twice broken tailbone, L5 vertebrae disintegrated, severed nerves in one leg, blown hearing, the aforementioned shrapnel still in his head. And no complaints about the pain he must have endured. “I know what it meant to be chosen to stand there,” he said. “I didn’t mind a little bit of pain for a lifetime of honour, to represent the Army there.”
Now considered permanently disabled, Falt is fighting hard to stay in the military. There are those who would see him discharged as unfit, but I doubt any of those people would find fault with his sense of duty, and I’m sure none of them would have dared ask him to take off the uniform this Remembrance Day.
The war in Afghanistan may be over for the Canadian Armed Forces, but it’s not yet a memory, not yet, not by far. All day on Nov. 11, serving members gathered at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa to honour their friends and comrades buried there. There was nothing symbolic about this ceremony, as hundreds of soldiers—thousands likely—were bused in to line up in rows around the graves, among the graves.
The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry also held a regimental ceremony at Beechwood, this one inside the main hall in the soaring atrium known as the “sacred space.” Dozens of serving and retired members of the regiment were there, intermingled with students from Laval Liberty High School wearing shirts emblazoned with the name Karigiannis or the name Dawe. These were kids from Chris Karigiannis’ old high school, now part of a leadership program inspired by him and by the sacrifice of another PPCLI member killed in Afghanistan, Captain Matthew Dawe.
There Kathleen Mills read a piece she’d written while her husband—PPCLI Lieutenant-Colonel Darryl Mills—was overseas. “On my honour, we will stand at the place where you rest and remember you,” she said. “On my honour, we will pick up the torch of freedom and carry it for you. On my honour, you will not be a silent memory, we will speak of you often so the world will know what you did.”
Meanwhile, at the National War Memorial, Canadians from all over the country mixed with veterans as the ceremony came to a close.
Jim Newell, 90, is a Second World War veteran who served in the Burma Campaign. “I wouldn’t have changed anything in spite of all the things I went through,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and I met some wonderful young men, some of whom didn’t come back.”
After serving in Burma, Newell joined the Black Watch and served in Northwest Europe. “I’m here for a silent salute,” he said, “a tribute to those buddies of mine who were killed.”
Richard Mittermeier and his wife Camille came from Toronto with their sons Richard Jr. and Jack because they felt it was a requirement. “It’s important for the kids to see the Ottawa ceremony once in their lives,” said Camille. “These people gave their lives; they are one of the few role models left of duty and honour and perseverance and self-sacrifice that defines us as a nation.”
Her son Jack added: “I think these soldiers should be remembered because they protect our country and we should say thank you to them.”
Back at the National War Cemetery the ceremony ended and eventually the soldiers got back on their buses and the crowds drifted off.
Just a few mourners remained among the graves, snow falling on them all.
—with files from Staff Writer Sharon Adams.