I haven’t been touched by war. I’m one of the lucky ones. My first father-in-law served with Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He lost an eye and the use of two fingers, shot by the enemy while he was in his tail gunner position in a Lancaster Bomber.
He seldom talked about it.
My current father-in-law, whom I never met – he died before my husband and I got together – served with the Canadian Army as a truck driver in France during the Second World War. Back home, his hair went white prematurely, and he jumped nervously at any unexpected noises.
Family said he seldom talked about it.
My father was a Captain in the Canadian Army and served in Korea and Japan. My mother said he was gone for 11 months, 10 days and 9 hours, approximately. I was a baby; my younger brother was born while Dad was away.
Dad seldom talked about it.
My step-son served with the PPCLI, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, then as a soldier with the first contingent of Canadians who went to Afghanistan in 2003. He was right there when our first four soldiers were killed - in a “Friendly Fire” accident, by Americans. When he phoned home to tell us that he was not among the dead, we heaved a huge sigh of relief – and cried. I understand that PTSD also affects the survivors.
He seldom talks about it.
I am richly endowed with good friends, many of whom are immigrants. Some come from war-battered countries. They don’t talk about it much, they are here to start over and give their families a better opportunity to succeed and prosper. In my previous career, I was an ESL teacher. English as a Second Language. Several keen learners came from war-torn countries.
They didn’t want to talk about it, but I heard stories now and then of the difficulties they and their families endured when they came to Canada as immigrants or refugees. One newly-arrived mother told me how her children were terrified by the sound of thunder – they were used to hearing bombs dropping nearby.
We lost our innocence and naivety when the New York Twin Towers went down. Had war come to our continent? Surely not to Canada. We boast of our clean, safe country. We can toss a soccer ball or enjoy Yoga Wednesdays right on the front lawn of our Parliament Buildings, the seat of government. What other country in the world can say that?
But wait, what happened when a home-grown Canadian lad crept up and killed our War Memorial guard, then managed to try again right inside the Centre Block?
Are we safe?
Are we secure?
Have we become suspicious of every stranger we meet?
When the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was inaugurated in 2000 by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, my husband and I stood in Confederation Park with thousands and thousands of others. The entire downtown was eerily silent, we heard only the occasional bird call or baby cry. Emotions welling, I listened to the GG’s eloquent speech about that boy, that 19-year old Canadian WWI soldier whose bones represented all soldiers who had been killed in war, and had been brought back to Ottawa to rest in that beautiful granite tomb on the site of the War Memorial.
I looked around at my fellow observers. Many like me, were choked up, tears running down their faces, pulling Kleenexes from their pockets. I thought to myself, ‘That anonymous young man, it could have been my grandfather, my father, my brothers, my sons – but it wasn’t.’ I was one of the lucky ones.
No one close to me has been killed in a recent conflict; but in thinking about all the sacrifices of so many, I can’t say that I haven’t been touched by war.
By: Pat Hall