Midnight in the European countryside, carrying all of their provisions, including their rifles and ammo, they waded through an ice-cold river, as they heard the sudden order to stop and stand still. Lines of men halted as the water quietly-rushed around them, knowing that any of their movements could give their position away. Standing there in the dark, wet and cold, they could not even afford to let out a shiver, as their hands shook while keeping their rifles above water. Even the crickets had stopped chirping on this moonless night, testing each man’s endurance over hunger, sleep, and their basic human needs. The order, which could last a few minutes or a few hours, seemed to last an eternity. For each man knew that their life depended on the man in front of them, and that each of their actions would define the course of history.
It was a different time then. A time when the words “life and death” held more gravity to our everyday lives than they ever could today, and a time when all Canadians became brothers and sisters against one enemy. Trust amongst men was easier to find then, than in today’s wired times. World War II had arrived at our borders and was threatening our way of life. We could only fall to the future dictators, or we could rise against them as one common force, as proud Canadians. The choice was obvious, but not simple.
At home, the families of our returning injured troops were provided a pamphlet, issued by the Canadian Armed Forces, instructing us on how to “prepare” for their return home. The instructions included subjects on how to knit covers for their amputated limbs, how to “accommodate” for their physical handicaps, how to avoid certain discussion topics, and how to “act” upon their return home. These were the same fathers and sons, who had left us months ago, returned to us now with not only their visible scars, but with the scars that only war could bring. For many, their return was enough, as many more did not return at all.
In the future, we will only be able to imagine what each man was thinking as the waist-deep water seeped through their uniform. As for today, we do not need our imaginations, as these heroes are still here living among us, within our generation. We are still fortunate enough to hear their stories first-hand. All we need to do is ask. Our veterans are the superheroes of our proud Canadian history and are the living icons of our Canadian heritage experience. Our current good fortune is due to their sacrifices, their courage, and their pride, as Canadians, to fight for their beliefs. Ideals which our current societies seem to have forgotten. Their stories should be “compulsory teaching” in our schools, taking precedence over any “spiritual” or “ethical” lessons we are foolishly attempting to provide today. These men and women must be afforded the greatest of honour and respect from each one of us, as without them our world would simply not be, our world.
As the leaves fall and silently hit our yards, we know they have done their job in supporting the trees from which they came. Just like the men and women who sacrificed their lives and livelihoods to allow us the freedom and opportunities we hold today. Yet, unlike our leaves, our fallen rarely went down in silence, while carrying our dreams and our futures with them. Whether by taking a stand against world dictators or to protect our own Canadian way of life, all members of our society collectively fought together as one common force. Wearing the poppy not only allows us to remember the people we lost in those struggles, but redefines our beliefs in their personal sacrifices. For only those proudly wearing the poppy each year, can truly see the honour behind the flower.
So when you see our veterans proudly selling poppies, go over and share a smile with them. Ask them about their stories, and about their lives. Their words have more meaning to us than any Hollywood script could capture.
Buying a poppy is the very least that they deserve from us, and is guaranteed to give you the most patriotic feeling, that you have felt in a long time. Knowing that these stories come from real people, in real times, could only add to our own experiences, right here in the SouthWest Corner.