Remembrance Day Blues
by Michael L Blais, CD
11 November, 2011
Melancholy strikes every year around this time. The sound of heralding bugles and lamenting pipes awaken memories in us of another era in our lives; an era of service to our nation and of intense comradeship never to be enjoyed again.
We do not see ourselves as old veterans who have long since served our nation, but as youthful nineteen and twenty year old Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen or women, eager to serve, proud of our nation and willing to offer our lives in our country’s name.
With every solemn word spoken this Remembrance Day, valiant service men and women will shed tears for friends, many of whom were lost in war and many others who were lost in "peace." These friends are never forgotten.
My memories of my service are not as violent as those who serve today or those who served in Korea or World War II. I served in the Cold War era. We held the line in former West Germany. We served on United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Most of my friends survived their tours of duty, albeit not unscathed from having witnessed the horrors of other’s wars – mass genocide, unbridled hatred of our fellow man, human carnage in the aftermath of an African drought or civil war, or the devastating impact of the earthquakes in Haiti.
Friends have died along this march; some in combat, some in training accidents, and some due to service-related illnesses that only emerged after active service. Their faces come unbidden when we stand, worn and aged, before our sacred cenotaphs. Their spirits soar briefly within us as we fulfill our sacred obligation.
Lest we forget... how can we forget?
How can the extraordinary valour and sacrifice of those who fought at Ortona, Juno Beach, the battle of the Atlantic or above the skies of Britain and Europe be forgotten?
How can we forget those who fought at Kapyong, Chai-Li, Little Gibraltar, The Hook, or Hill 187, where 516 Canadians battled desperately for survival?
And then there is our peacekeeping generation – Canadian Forces and RCMP members – and those who served in the First Gulf War, many of whom are suffering from a variety of serious health issues. How can we, as a nation, forget the faces of the 158 Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan over the past nine years?
On a personal level, the faces of those with whom I served will come to mind as the clock chimes the 11th hour of the 11th month, of the 11th year of this century.
I will remember Victor Weddel and Jeff Woods, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, lost to this nation during the Cold War while serving in West Germany. The premature detonation of a grenade on the training range sounded the death knell. The consequences were fatal. Their names are seldom mentioned; their memories do not share the glory of those who have been killed in combat, but in my mind, I still see them – young men, so full of life and promise.
I recall the image of Bobby Girouard, a very keen soldier who played for the regimental hockey team in the brigade hockey league. We parted ways in Cyprus when I was posted back to Canada and remustered away from the Regiment after being injured while on tour. Bob rose through the ranks and, at the time of his death in Afghanistan on November 27, 2006, had obtained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer and was serving as 1 RCR’s Regimental Sergeant Major. Operation Medusa was in full swing. Bob was eager to resupply the battalion’s rifle companies as they advanced to contact across the Panjawaii Valley. Bob loaded his Bison APC with spare ammunition, water and provisions. At approximately 8:30 am, local time, an old man in a car drove directly towards the Bison and detonated a vehicle-borne IED. In this moment, Corporal Albert Storm, CD, and Regimental Sergeant Major Robert Girouard, CD, were summoned to a Higher Order.
Lest we forget.