Remembrance Day: Giving everything so we could have something
I used to play trumpet, and my crowning musical achievement came not with playing reggae and ska/rocksteady covers at the Garden Works Christmas party (1997), but with having had the privilege of playing “Taps” at my elementary school’s Remembrance Day assembly, circa 1989.
As the only trumpet player in my school band, the mantle fell to me, despite the protests of the resident French horn player. I gratefully accepted the challenge, and practiced the heck out of that song ‘til my lips were raw, my chops blown.
Even then I knew what an important and significant day/symbol Remembrance Day was. I grew up with the knowledge and understanding that the many freedoms I enjoyed in life were largely due to the sacrifices made by our progenitors, our surviving veterans and their fallen comrades.
To be asked to partake in and of a Remembrance Day ceremony was significant, not something to be taken lightly. When the day of reckoning arrived, when I was asked to stand and play the sombre notes out for all to hear, images of the Somme, Normandy, archival photographs from the First and Second World Wars cycled behind me, a slideshow, really… the days before digital everything.
My only regret from that experience was allowing my sixth-grade self to be talked into wearing some poorly conceived rag-tag set of clothing intended to represent a military uniform; I borrowed my dad’s old Rocky Mountain Rangers beret, some olive drab shirt and pants, and as per my band teacher’s hopes, vaguely resembled a soldier.
Shameful. As I stood at attention, blaring my rendition of Taps out, I felt at once humiliated and phoney, a fraud. A sour note escaped my brass, then two, shaky and quavering all the way through.
It was the longest 49 seconds of my life, my conscience bellowing, “you are not worthy” all the way. What right did I have to ‘make-believe’ my soldiering, dumb kid from Burnaby whose experience of war was assembling GI Joe figures in a series of unlikely dioramas.
That feeling of not measuring up to the actions and sacrifices of our predecessors, those that have gone to war, has continued to colour much of my life. The legion, our local incarnation included, is today a place that I feel not just reverence and respect for, but, again, a distinct ‘unworthiness’ when I am within. On Remembrance Day in particular this feeling is compounded considerably, a dose of reality a stiff drink indeed.
And I recognize this: While taking an hour of a day once a year, the eleventh hour of the eleventh month is something, what was set down by so many, the ultimate sacrifice, is by definition everything.
The legion is a serious place. Their ongoing charity work for veterans, seniors and scholarships for youths, too, is supported by their annual poppy drive, meat draws and other intra branch activities. Legion member Bobbie Lafonde, busily assembling wreaths Wednesday night at the legion, explained that in order for the legion to continue to do its good work, more people need to become involved, and more people need to support it.
“We need more members, more people to come and visit,” she nods, wreaths for the next day carefully arranged. “The poppy fund, money from meat draws, that all goes to our work with charity. The only place we make money to support our operating costs is with our dinners, dances and the bar.”
The interior is bustling this particular evening, the night before what is most likely the busiest day of the year for the collected veterans and supporters. Lafonde, while not a veteran herself, conducts herself with military efficiency, answers my questions quickly and with little fanfare as she moves briskly from task to task.
“What can the community do to help the legion along on an ongoing basis?” I venture.
“Come in an have a few drinks,” Lafonde replies. “Visit with our veterans and seniors.”
It shouldn’t feel like a chore, but ought to come from a sense of duty. The legion does good work, and is a living monument to the efforts of our soldiers, whether they served in The Great War, World War 2, Korea, or Afghanistan.
“This year,” I tell myself, “I will do better.” And I press on, cornering another legion member with more questions. As long as I don’t have to trumpet my queries, it’s all good.
“What are some of the challenges in keeping our soldiers’ actions front and centre in the minds of youth today?”
Vince Profili, master of ceremonies for today’s Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph, adds that the disconnect many younger people have between themselves and the reality of war, may boil down to the difficulty the young have in seeing themselves in our veterans.
“The life you enjoy today is because of what young people did in 1939 to 1945, and earlier than that, too. They didn’t go to war as old men and women, they were youths themselves.”
And some were children, seventeen year olds stretching the truth in order to serve their country.
“For next year, I don’t want to just read the names of our local soldiers that died overseas,” Profili continues. “I want to read their ages, too, and really drive home the fact that these were men, and in some cases boys, that laid down their youth, their lives, everything.”
And they did that with peace in mind. Citing his own father Aldo, Profili notes, “Many of those that served and came home suffered with mental and physical pain the rest of their lives. We need to remember that, support them, and pay tribute to that sacrifice. While the attendance has gotten better (Remembrance Day), young people have to get involved.”
In contrast to that already given, such an effort seems infinitesimally small.
Support your local legion, veterans, and seniors today, tomorrow, and always.
Today’s Remembrance Day ceremonies take place at the cenotaph on Columbia Avenue at 10am. Please attend the wreath laying ceremony, and join veterans and legion members at our Washington Street legion afterwards for refreshments, entertainment, and a deserved helping of humble pie, hot rum and stories.