By Pauline Kerr
There were fewer war veterans participating in local Remembrance Day ceremonies this year.
One reason is a combination of time and the nature of warfare – the last military action in which large numbers of Canadians served was Korea. Technology has made possible the destruction of targets thousands of miles away. Afghanistan proved today’s military are no less brave than counterparts from past wars, but the kind of trench warfare we see in old news clips is largely a thing of the past.
Another is the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of our older veterans died as the virus swept through nursing and retirement homes. Those who survived continue to take extra precautions, avoiding crowds and spending as little time as possible with people outside their usual circle of friends and family.
Unlike last year, most communities held some sort of Remembrance Day ceremony, perhaps on video, perhaps abbreviated, and certainly with greater caution than would have been the case pre-COVID. However, the moment of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was no less solemn than in years past.
As time goes on, the importance of Remembrance Day seems to grow, in a large part thanks to the efforts of the Royal Canadian Legion members. They have maintained a determination to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the values Canadians hold so dear, and the many others who came home to build this great country of ours into what it is today.
There was a time when the Royal Canadian Legion was somewhat of a club for military veterans. That is no longer the case. The organization has expanded over the years to include those who share common interests with those who served, who respect this country and its military, and who place a high value on freedom, sacrifice and honour.
In addition to its support for veterans, the Legion makes valuable contributions to a wide range of community services, everything from youth sports to health care. The Legion is strong and relevant in this new millennium.
There are those who have expressed the view that while the Legion has relevance, Remembrance Day may have outlived its usefulness.
A look at the crowds that gathered at cenotaphs all across this country – some in person, some virtually – says otherwise. Remembrance Day and all that it represents are more vital than ever.
Every student of history is familiar with George Santayana’s famous saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We remember so we do not repeat the horrors.
Remembrance Day does not celebrate war; it honours those who stood up for what they believed to be right and good, and who were willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, so their children could grow up in freedom. It reminds us of what we have – and why we have it.
Contrary to the impression one might get from the evening news, we live in the most peaceful place, at the most peaceful time in human memory. While there is warfare in many places in the world, most of the people attending Remembrance Day ceremonies around here this year have never witnessed widespread bloodshed and have never heard a gun fired in anger. We pray they never will.
The Legion was founded by people who were all too familiar with the sound of gunfire, with the sight of bodies in the rubble of lovely old buildings. They have passed the torch to a new generation, who honour those memories.
Perhaps the day will come when the very concept of war is itself a distant memory; when international disputes are all resolved around a table, never on the battlefield; when bloodthirsty dictators are never given the opportunity to gain power and become a world danger.
When that time comes, perhaps Remembrance Day will cease to have meaning. For now, it has tremendous significance. Thank you to all who have served, past and present, and to the Royal Canadian Legion.