REFLECTIVE GLORIES - by Howie Pierce, Gdsm
"Howie" on the way out the door ready for Veterans Parade in Stittsville , ON .
On a bright afternoon in November wearing my beloved poppy in advance of the up-and-coming "Small town Canada's version of Veterans Day Stittsville , ON . To get this story started I should mention while shopping for a warm winter coat (the same one in the photo) at "The Bay", Nepean ON. Took notice of an older gentleman, looked to be in his upper eighties, a man whom I'd never known previously; we would meet only because we had been in the same place at the same time as fate would have it. While looking over the winter coats took notice this remarkable soldierly appearance, a slim man thinning and wrinkled bearing all the physical scars of a life well lived. Later learning in conversation he was closing in on about ninety years of age. His striking demeanour was outstanding he was dressed to the hilt, fresh well starched shirt wearing a regimental tie with a poppy over the heart standing tall looking much like the commanding officer. Not common in these days of blue jeans sweater scarf and jacket.
Adorning the gentleman's head perched on top of a full thick bed of silver hair was his Glengarry -- in place was a sparkling silver Black Watch hat badge. As instinct would have it, there in the middle of the store, I flipped him a salute. A larger than life smile lit up his face; he then returned the compliment smartly and without hesitation. Should it be said, it was the old army salute, the same one we executed when Major Couche demanded with the flat of the hand directly in line with the man's eyes, shortest way up -- longest way down, you know the drill. Other shoppers did notice the on-going little military gesture of respect taking place between two old soldiers in a large department store. We in the Guards all know saluting as time honoured respect shown between an officer and his men, the military way! Who would have expected two old fellows both wearing a single red poppy in the middle of a large department store saluting -- years after both had retired.
Anyhow the complement drew, for whatever reason, a rousing hand of applause from other patrons in the immediate area. Catching both of us by surprise, the gentleman without giving it a second thought referred to it as "REFLECTIVE GLORIES", a new label; never heard of it described in that fashion, ever! In conversation we got to talking about our military service mentioning having services with a Canadian Scottish Regiment , the 59th LAA (Lanark and Renfrew Scottish). Recalling, ten or so years after WW 2, as a fifteen year old boy in the early fifties, followed some of my chums from Arnprior ON., signing-up for service with Canada 's Militia. At the Armory in the near-by town of Renfrew we "the valley lads", followed the pipers to the tune of Scotland The Brave. You bet ya wee lads had visions of becoming "the next world conquering heroes." We later learned 'tis not to be the case as we scrubbed the pots and pans out back of the mess tent.
Getting back to the story I soon learned of his World War Two experiences in Europe , explaining at the time he was with the British Army, The Black Watch Regiment. One thing led to another, and finally we spoke of the up- and-coming Veterans parades in small town Canada, as well as the National ceremonies at the cenotaph and in Ottawa; Its meaning and Canada's involvement in foreign wars, specifically men and women killed in action in many cases being interned in graves not far afield where they fell -- on foreign soil. And, how on the home front, in the absence of individual graves the nation would gathered at cenotaphs to honour their sacrifices. That was then! Explaining, now days we are seeing a change as the deceased are returned to the place where it all started, Canada . I mentioned this because he was not aware, and because time never stands still pointing out not all Canadians realize this new practice of returning the remains to the homeland has given cause to other remembrance day practices; Highway of Heroes, and Wreaths across Canada .
He agreed Wreaths across Canada will give the opportunity for the families across this land to honour their sacrifice, visiting their grave markers where they live and place a wreath at the foot of the veteran. This in turn will bring a sense of all embracing nationalism and nurture loyalty and commitment to the veteran's sacrifice. We both understood this was not always the case, as we know in both world wars and other conflicts in-between the remains were laid to rest on foreign soil, usually in British Cemeteries. Only to be visited occasionally by veterans and/or family-- if ever. Other than that school children in countries like Holland who would gather at the cemeteries placing flowers on Canadian graves in respect for their freedom brought about through the ultimate sacrifice of the soldiers under foot -- they are left behind with a promise they will never be forgotten. Understandably after passage of time and generations of family passing not only the distance in miles but in time the memory grows lighter -- as once hated foe are now allies -- time heals all wounds. Eventually the gentleman in front of me got to talking about why old soldiers like himself kept the torch burning -- attending 11 November services every year over the past century. He concluded Remembrance was to commemorate the fighting troops who fell in battle, left there ... as at that time there was no way home. Grave markers in home town Canada did not exist, repatriated war dead and those veterans who had post war graves in home town cemeteries were often marked with a Maple Leaf or a Veteran Affairs Canada headstone. The exception being when Canadians fought alongside the British in smaller scrimmages in North America, or as veterans who made it home only to die later. Usually the remains of battle casualties of foreign wars, if they could be found, were left in the corner of a cemetery, mostly British.
Here at home it was decided to establish large and small Cenotaphs as a central gathering place for the nation to pay their respects... and once a year to mourn the passing of the war dead. As we know ever since, the nation has turned out each 11 November to remember. Those Veterans on parade seldom did they personally know the veteran, or his family only the name on the cenotaph. Home town hero's names were etched on the sides or front of the cenotaph marking those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, they grow not weary at the going down of the sun... left there on foreign soil never to grow old; Are their names fading into time and memorial, out of sight out of mind? Old soldiers keeping the memory alive parade as the torch is passed ... although the numbers have dwindled as the years pass. It has becoming noticeable to witness on parade fewer old vets wearing colourful ribbons, you know the ones," two or three stars and three round metals," those awarded to the vets of World War Two. At this point in time 2011 as they are getting older, even the Korean veterans, most having difficulties stand through the ceremonies or march in the parade. Then along comes: Afghanistan , the Cold War, and many Peace-Keeping operations. Wearing newly struck metals they swell the ranks on Remembrance Day Parade; Could this be the new beginning of Remembrance Day as we know it? Younger vets in their seventies pay attention as the cold coals of 40 or so years of the Cold War flickered and die ... we recall the burning embers of the once blazing fires from the two world wars are now cooling ... previous war memories have long since burned out. We can take solace as the sun rises on the horizon, mainly because of the Afghanistan War, a new heat radiating far and wide across the land -- a renewed sense of commitment to the Veteran. Their sacrifices once again have given cause for heartfelt remembrance for some of us know where they came from. The service of the New Veteran -- the young men and women who have given body and soul in the service of their country. The once strong and vibrant thought of sacrifice handed down from WW One and Two, and Korea has resurfaced, brightly as ever. This phenomena many believe is mainly due to those who have answered the call in a modern war fought over the dusty dry terrain in far off Afghanistan . That far off place called Afghanistan where the land scape is littered with the new veteran's sacrifices ... bits and pieces of Canada's warriors ... getting their limbs blown to bits and many losing their lives, or parts there-of ... but never backing down.Here in the homeland hearts are broken as the loses mount ... trauma and weeping at the loss of lives ... watching the parade of hearses down the HighWay of Heroes. Warriors silenced... screaming inside each one of us, lashing out in protest... Why? The very soul of the nation effects their innocents it is deeply felt, alone this has changed Canada forever. In the silence of a silent night we are left to mourn we shall remember them. These combatants have been returned to the land they have kept free, and now committed to the ground in " Canada ." This too has given birth to a new honorarium marking the Afghans Veteran's passing. Witnessed in two newly instituted ceremonies; HighWay of Heroes and Wreaths Across Canada (WAC). At the many graves of veterans interred here in Canada on the first Sunday in December we are asked to decorate with a wreath, a visible sign of our time honoured promise to remember. Much like the poppy plucked from fields of Flanders, now we have the Canadian momentum, "a branch from the common fir tree, bent to form a wreath", broken away from the never ending evergreen forest that stretch across this great land.
Beechwood National Military Cemetery-(photo later)
Will this become an annual pilgrimage each and every year to visit and lay a wreath... only we the living can make it happen. Today as we pass the torch to the new veterans, now and into the future a new model following the tradition in our country, a visible accolade honouring those who gave freely "service and sacrifice". By laying a wreath at the feet of those veterans who made it back and have since passed away -- they too shall be remembered in this special way; Wreaths Across Canada, (WAC) a continuum of our appreciation for their service sacrifices and contributions ... will it ever happen over time they too will go-unnoticed in this busy society. It should be noted, Gerry Wharton and a contingent representing The Canadian Guards Association took part in these inaugural proceedings at Beachwood National Veterans Cemetery on this the first "Wreaths Across Canada", ceremonial. The sacrifice, "Reflective Glory" on the youth of the Nation never ends ... knowing past generations went off following in the footsteps of past generations keeping Canada free from tyrants who would have it otherwise. Giving to those who enjoy this freedom loving democratic society, by instilling in the youth of the nation through this example "Wreaths Across Canada", will elevate the value of military service for those who gave of themselves ... As we the old pass the torch to the new younger veterans we know they too as veterans will one day "be remembered" -- at the going down of the sun and in the morning we shall remember the red poppies will forever remain the colour of the blood ...as it looked as it spilled from the troops on the battlefields fighting for what you have, "freedom'.
As the old gentleman disappeared into the crowded shopping centre I wondered; What was his name, or will he be with us much longer? Although I know not his name I know what he done for us ... I shall remember him.
I will tell you a story of what happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was putting my car in the closest parking lot to the National Archives, when the young lad (23) taking my money asked what my car licence stood for. When I told him it was the title of my old regiment, he immediately put out his hand and shook mine, thanking me for my service. He went on to tell me he had been born in Iran but was interested in joining the Canadian Army. We had a talk about that and just as I was leaving I asked him if he had watched the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. He said yes, so I told him that I was on the first one in 1959, whereupon he again shook my hand. So, some people do care!