Reflections on Remembrance Day

The process of writing this editorial has been one of those times where I have found myself struggling to concentrate my thoughts. I didn’t want to do my typical ranting on X political topic, but rather something with deeper meaning relating to Remembrance Day.

It is a day of the year that has always been dear to me, using it as a time to reflect upon the sacrifices of our veterans and on whether I personally have lived up to their legacy.

Thus here I sit, by the Canadian Veterans’ Memorial in front of Wilfrid Laurier University attempting to collect my thoughts on what Remembrance Day means to me.

Like many of us I had a grandfather who served in the Second World War. He was a proud, self-made man, signing up immediately in the Canadian army once of military age. Grandpa served with great distinction in the Royal Montreal Regiment, ascending to the rank of sergeant major. Upon the war’s end he got into the tire business, working as a sales manager at Uniroyal, a line of work my Dad continued on in, but me not so much.

Many of my fondest memories are of being at the cottage he and my grandmother owned at Sauble Beach. They lived on the Saugeen First Nation native reserve just off the Sauble River. We went fishing, went on golf cart rides down hidden paths through the area and practically domesticated the local chipmunks.

Always one for getting a good deal on anything, we would hit up the local flea market or various garage sales every so often. My family wasn’t particularly wealthy in my early years, so we did very little travelling. Instead we went up to visit him at the cottage almost every long-weekend.

My grandpa’s health was never the greatest and it was painful watching him fade over the years. Eventually he could no longer take care of himself in Sauble and he had to sell the cottage, something a very proud, independent man like my grandpa was none too pleased about.

He was a fighter though, making it through an absurd number of operations, some successful and many botched. He passed away last March due to complications from pneumonia at the age of 83.

For all the good times I had with my grandpa at the cottage, I never got to know him as well as I would have liked. I never really got to know about his life and what he experienced during the war. It’s something I will always regret.

As time passes many other veterans will likewise fade away and with them their own unique personal experiences of an event so catastrophic it has no parallel in human history. I fear their legacy of spirit will likewise fade as a distant memory.

I look around at society and wonder where the spirit of the “Greatest Generation” has gone. Honour, self-sacrifice, service to one’s family, community and country and an ethic of self-reliance seem increasingly a rarity in a society dominated by feelings of entitlement. To even suggest that one has responsibilities as citizens of this country is met with allegations of being socially backward and having a desire to return to the past.

Fewer and fewer people will wear poppies this Remembrance Day; even fewer people will observe a moment of silence and last post.
I will again take the time this Remembrance Day to reflect on whether I am living up to the spirit of the “Greatest Generation”; a spirit which I like to think was embodied by my late grandfather.

I will take the time this Remembrance Day to remember how the veterans who reflected these values saved our democracy and preserved our way of life, so we could live free of fear, free of hardship and free of tyranny. I will take the time this Remembrance Day to reflect on the lessons of the past.

As the “Greatest Generation” fades away you should take the time to learn their story and reflect on their sacrifice.

Talk to our veterans while you still can and thank them for all they did for our country. Remembrance Day only comes once a year; honour them.

—Written in memory of my grandfather, Owen Merkley (1927-2010)

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