Canada is known for peace, yet has sent more men to war over the ages than most nations its size.
It doesn’t brag about this.
Canada was in WWI and WWII before its neighbors, but gets little credit outside its own borders for that courage, in that time.
Yet we remember.
Canada has sent peacekeepers into some of the most dangerous places on the planet to protect the most vulnerable, yet that unique courage is always overshadowed by war.
We don’t forget.
In my Canadian family, young men have fought overseas since the Boer War lured British troops (and therefore members of the British Empire, including Canada) to South Africa in the 1800s.
Several uncles fought in both World War I and World War II. They were teenagers when they volunteered. Those injured in the first war re-enlisted in the second, and were assigned desk jobs, because of their injuries.
One uncle was hurt so badly that his wife threatened to divorce him if he signed up again. He did; and she did.
Another was so grievously wounded in WWII, his near-lifeless body was tossed on a truck collecting the dead. His head was apparently almost sliced off, so everyone was alarmed when a groan was heard from the pile of corpses. God bless the soldiers who saved him for premature burial; they rushed him to a field hospital, and my uncle survived.
He returned home to raise a family, and run an independent business. My uncle, whom I met as a small child, was well-known and respected as a good man in the community. His family continues his legacy by helping others with generosity and warmth.
We cannot forget.
Another uncle fought in both world wars; his son fought in the Korean War.
All these men came home. None spoke about the battlefield on their return, their families tell me.
These stories have been passed from one generation to the next, in reverence by those of us who have never been ordered to fight, and will never know war.
Some of these uncles went to war because they were conscripted. Even so, I’m told all would have volunteered anyway. Those were different times, when service to one’s country was honorable.
Many Canadian pacifists stayed true to their religious values by serving as ambulance drivers and medics in the world wars. Some were ostracized for this, and suffered when they returned home.
A young man just didn’t stay home when his neighbors were fighting for freedom in the last world war. (Women weren’t allowed in combat then.) One of my uncles, now in his 80s, was reportedly in a rage as a teen when he learned the Canadian government barred him from military service because he was an only son and the son of a farmer. In WWII, both were reasons for being rejected for war.
My uncle threatened to run away to fight because all his buddies and cousins had enlisted. My grandfather, the farmer, insisted that his only son stay home.
But my uncle went to a community dance one night while his friends were in uniform, and a stranger left a white feather in his fedora.
Sometimes, we have to ask again, to hear the stories anew, to appreciate the sacrifice of our neighbors and our families.
We must listen.
It’s Remembrance Day in Canada, and I am in my home country, asking questions of that generation, and saying, humbly, thank you.
We’ve debated war and peace for generations in this country, but we honor those who served when called.
No matter where we stand politically on war, we thank those who fought for us, and honor those who didn’t return home.
With special gratitude, and love on Remembrance Day to my brother, who served more than 20 years in the Canadian army, and who served as a U.N. peacekeeper in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He left “retirement” to serve in Afghanistan, proving yet again, that Canadians work for others in ways that gain little international recognition.