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United By Remembrance

by Ray Dick

Two female World War II veterans examine the display of wreaths.

There was pride tempered with tears for lost sons and daughters as Canadians gathered at the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day to remember the sacrifices to past wars and conflicts. And although the sun shone brightly in Ottawa, the air was chilled by the wind and by the numbing shadow left over from last September’s terrorist attacks in the United States.

“A generation ago we defeated the forces of hatred, cruelty, tyranny and racism,” Rabbi Reuven Bulka, honorary chaplain for The Royal Canadian Legion, told the crowd of 15,000 gathered under tight security in downtown Ottawa. “But the war against these ravaging intrusions on human decency is not over.”

“It is a straight line from eleven-eleven to nine-eleven,” said Bulka, referring to the terrorist acts in the U.S. on Sept.11 that claimed some 5,000 lives in New York and Washington and shattered the “unspoken, but palpable hope” that Canadians would never again have to return to the battlefront.

“Now our younger generation has been sent overseas, fully aware of the dangers but equally fully committed to stand on guard for us, to protect the values we cherish and if necessary to fight for them,” a reference to the Canadian warships, planes and troops then making their way to the Persian Gulf area to take part in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

The rabbi’s benediction drew warm applause from the assembled masses that surrounded the National War Memorial and spilled over onto the manicured lawns of the Parliament Buildings and any other high vantage points in the area. His reference to terrorism was only one of several indications that Remembrance Day in 2001 would be different.

Police dogs sniffed all wreaths, parcels and bags entering the larger than usual cordoned off area around the cenotaph, inconspicuous police sharpshooters were stationed on rooftops and other vantage points surrounding the site, and a bullet-proof glass enclosure stood in one corner of the cordoned off area, a haven for the viceregal party, the prime minister and other dignitaries, just in case.

And, in a break with tradition, the Legion’s National Colour Party, commanded for the 15th year by Jim Wiles of the Legion’s Montgomery Branch in Ottawa, carried the U.S. flag along with its normal Legion-approved colours, the Canadian flag and the flags of the provinces and territories. The Maple Leaf and the Stars and Stripes were not lowered or dipped throughout the ceremony. “Given the events of the past few weeks we decided that this would be an appropriate time and place to honour those who lost their lives on September 11,” said Legion President Bill Barclay. “We are, and have been, a staunch ally of the U.S. for a very long time, and the lives lost on that day should be a reminder to all of us of the true horrors of war. We also have branches in the U.S. and this shows our solidarity with those members who live there.”

The national ceremony was the culmination of a week of activities across the country organized by the government and the Legion. And, possibly because of the recent terrorist events, the large and appreciative crowd applauded almost everything, from the opening singing of O Canada by the Central Children’s Choir of Ottawa-Carleton to the closing march past by hundreds of veterans, cadets and Canadian Forces members.

The loud reverberations of the first boom of a 21-gun salute caught the attention of the cenotaph crowd, followed by the observance of two minutes of silence. All eyes turned skyward as the roar of fighter jets filled the air in a flypast of four Canadian Forces CF-18s in the missing-man formation, an impressive display that reminded many in the crowd, including some elderly veterans sitting in wheelchairs and covered with blankets from the chill wind, of the searing images only two months ago of planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.

In keeping with those images, CF Chaplain General Tim Maindonald offered a prayer for the country’s 114,000 war dead and for those serving in the war against terrorism.

Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, Silver Cross Mother Ina Galvin of Bolton Centre, Que., and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien placed wreaths as part of a long floral tribute that by the end of the ceremony had covered the memorial’s stone and concrete base. The Silver Cross Mother lost her son David, 36, on Nov. 29, 1993. He was killed while serving as a peacekeeper in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

She thought of her son and of the terrorist attacks when she placed her wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost children in the Canadian military or merchant navy service. “I am thinking of all the young boys who have given their lives for their country. And I feel bad that another war is going on now.” She was proud to place the wreath, but said it was too bad there had not been a better understanding of terrorists and what they were capable of doing.

Corporal David Galvin, a member of the Sherbrooke Hussars militia regiment and deployed with the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, was killed when a Cougar armoured personnel carrier escorting a humanitarian aid convoy skidded off an icy bridge into a river. “David was the baby, the youngest of seven children,” said Galvin, a spry 79-year-old who runs a camping facility in the summer months. “His father died when he was 13, and an older brother Chris, who was already a captain in the army, became a father figure.” David, who was serving as a crew member on the Cougar, had prepared himself for an army career by serving in the cadets and reserves.

“This was his first peacekeeping mission,” she added, “and it didn’t bother me at the time. It was a peacekeeping mission, not a war zone.” That all changed when an army chaplain came to her house about 6:30 one morning to tell her that her youngest son was dead. He had written several letters to his mother, but she had not received them until after he had been killed. “I read only one. I couldn’t read the rest.” In the one she did read he was describing how much fun he was having with his buddies.

The parade of wreaths continued at the cenotaph as House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, Veterans Affairs Minister Ron Duhamel and Chief of Defence Staff Raymond Hénault paid tribute, as did four young winners of the Legion’s annual national Legion literary and poster contest. Representing the youth of Canada were poetry winner Devon Caufield of Vernon, B.C, essay winner Jessica Remedios of Whitbourne, Nfld., black and white poster winner Stephen Wichuk of Darwell, Alta., and colour poster winner Naomi Cairns of Errington, B.C. The wreath bearer for the youth reps was Warrant Officer Laura Walker of London, Ont.

It was a special day for Cairns, made more so because the Canadian War Museum is interested in hanging her colour poster in a permanent display. The poster depicts an elderly and wrinkled man smoking a cigar. In the background is an army helmet and a Canadian flag. “I got the idea from a picture in the National Geographic magazine,” she said. “All those wrinkles seemed to be telling a story. It made me think of past wars, and that I don’t want it to happen again.” There was also a message in it for her dad. “I told him this is what you’re going to look like if you don’t stop smoking cigars.”

The next wreath was placed by Dominion President Bill Barclay.

Later, as the wreaths piled up from the diplomatic corps, veterans organizations, associations and the public, the prime minister and Governor General shook hands and chatted with veterans seated in the front row, just in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the cenotaph. The Legion’s national colour party, the Stars and Stripes still flying alongside the Canadian flag, led hundreds of veterans in a march past the saluting base to the music of the Central Band of the Canadian Forces and the Air Command Pipes and Drums.

The warm applause that greeted the veterans held up as marchers from the Canadian Forces and cadets moved past the reviewing stand, and that enthusiasm hardly waned as trucks from the 30th Field Regiment formed the tail of the column towing the guns that provided the 21-gun salute. The crowds moved into the previously blocked area around the cenotaph, admiring the wreaths, chatting with their neighbours and the war veterans and seemingly reluctant to leave the area. Many of them left their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the cenotaph.

Although the physical scene was similar to past years at the National War Memorial, there was an underlying feeling that this was a different Remembrance Day mainly because of the horrific loss of life in the U.S. on Sept. 11 and the current war against terrorism in which Canada has sent soldiers to participate. “It’s the same Remembrance Day,” said Bob Butt, Dominion Command’s chief of public relations. “But people are more aware of what the real cost of war is.” The crowds were bigger this year, and security was tighter.

The mood from the current war against terrorism was also evident in crowds that gathered for Veterans Week events organized by Veterans Affairs Canada across the country and in the huge increase in poppy revenues in the Legion’s annual campaign to raise funds for assistance to veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs Minister Ron Duhamel officially launched Veterans Week on Nov. 5 in a special candlelight ceremony in the Hall of Honour at the Parliament Buildings, beginning a week of events and activities across the country honouring veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and peacekeeping operations around the world both past and present. He later unveiled the Veterans’ Week national poster, featuring photographs exemplifying this year’s theme, In the Service of Peace. A 19-by-26-foot banner reproduction of the poster was hung on one of the outside walls of the National Arts Centre, visible to the thousands who gathered for the Remembrance Day ceremony.

The shadow of terrorism crept into a ceremony of remembrance in the Senate, attended by Smokey Smith, Canada’s last surviving Victoria Cross recipient, Paul Métivier, a World War I veteran, and Leonard Birchall, this year’s Vimy Award winner popularly known as “the Saviour of Ceylon” for his heroics in World War II.

“Since our armed forces are seeing active duty in the war against terrorism, it behooves us to remember peace comes with a price,” said Senate Speaker Daniel Hays. And Métivier, a gunner whose supply lines included horses and mules, noted that technology used then seems primitive compared to that currently used in Afghanistan. But one thing he noted remained the same: “Peace is worth fighting for.”

The shadow of terrorism also crept over Legion activities as members prepared for the Ottawa Remembrance Day ceremony, but in this case the gathering clouds of war had a silver lining. In some cases it appeared that Canadians were lining up to donate to the annual poppy campaign, and many of the distributors for some 1,600 Legion branches across the country had to call Ottawa for more supplies.

Last year the Legion distributed 14 million poppies through its branches and Canadians donated about $8 million to the campaign, funds that go to take care of war veterans and their families. And while this year’s figures will not be tallied for several weeks, it appears that more people than usual wore the poppy on their coats and jackets, and that the war on terrorism and images of Canadian troops joining the fight have strongly increased interest in poppies this year.

“The September 11 incident has made (people) stop and think about previous wars and what our veterans went through,” said Joan Williams, chairman of the poppy campaign for North York Legion Branch in Toronto. In Ottawa, Ray Ponto of the Kanata Legion Branch said there was increased interest in poppies among youngsters. As he distributed poppies at a recent Ottawa Senators hockey game, young men came up to him and poured change into his collection box. “A lot of them just wanted to say ‘thank you’,” said Ponto.


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