“These heroes live among us still. Thank them for their service. Sometimes we can forget what those words mean to them.”
A reflection by Fr. Patrick O’Neill
Canadians recognize Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day on November 11th. It is a solemn day of the year when we remember service members of the Canadian Forces and Merchant Marines from the earliest of wars and conflicts right up to present day. When we gather at cenotaphs and community centers, we recognize those who have paid the Ultimate Sacrifice. Soldiers who have given their lives for freedom and service to the country of Canada. The bravery of those who fought in wars and died, those who came back home have won for us the freedom and country we have today.
Men and women left all they ever knew in small villages, towns and urban cities. In the early wars men and women left their homes for the first time and found themselves overseas in foreign countries they only read about in the paper. Imagine being uprooted from all you ever knew and find yourself wondering if you would live to the next day or get to return home. Imagine how much these brave souls must have missed their families, loved ones and spouses. Soldiers are committed to something bigger and greater than themselves.
When I reflect on this special day, I give thanks to those who have paid the Ultimate Sacrifice, those who came home, our retired members, those who are now currently serving in the Canadian Forces and the families that support soldiers past and present. On November 11th uniforms and medals will be highly visible in every community across Canada. The Pipes and Drums will be heard as military personnel march with great dignity down the main street of the community. Wreaths will be laid showing great respect and honor. Then finally we will hear the one lone bugle playing the “Last Post and Reveille” followed with silence. This a very solemn and powerful moment of remembrance.
I encourage everyone when they meet a Veteran or current military woman or man to thank them for their service. It is impossible for us to understand what they went through or experienced. We can know for sure that many have seen things they wish they never had to see or experience. Many have come back from more recent wars like Afghanistan and have injuries on the inside of the body. Today our society has a better understanding of PTSD. Many men and women veterans are trying to cope with so much. PTSD is not limited to soldiers. It affects emergency responders and individuals who experience trauma. Many of us also know soldiers who have come home who have suffered physically as well.
I am currently a member of the Canadian Forces for 13 years serving as a Military Chaplain with the Army. I remember the very first time I accompanied a family to CFB Trenton to welcome home the remains of a soldier from Glace Bay who died in Afghanistan. I was tasked to be the Chaplain for the family of Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil who died on his fourth tour in Afghanistan and only 28 years old. As they carried his casket off the Hercules aircraft onto the tarmac I could not stop weeping as the family welcomed their son back home to Canada. As we drove down the “Highway of Heroes” from CFB Trenton to Toronto we passed under 50 overpasses crowded with people of all ages. On the side of the highway, you could see flags everywhere. Canadians who did not know Jimmy remembered and honoured his service. Douglas MacArthur wrote “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”. When I reflect on those individuals from years past to present who served their country with such faithfulness I am in awe and respect for the veteran who is selling poppies as I leave a store. These heroes live among us still. Thank them for their service. Sometimes we can forget what those words mean to them.
Father Patrick J. O’Neill is pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, Sydney River and a Military Chaplain (Captain) serving: Cape Breton Highlanders, 35 Field Ambulance, 36 Field Engineers, 36 Service Battalion and 725 Communications Squadron