Thursday, November 12, 2009

We Will Remember Them...

Yesterday, I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa. It was the first time I was able to make it to that ceremony and was glad that I did.

The weather was perfect, unseasonably warm and not a cloud in the sky. The ceremony itself was impressive, involving members of all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP, dignitaries including the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales, Charles, who was on a Canadian tour and of course, veterans.

There are a few points I wanted to make after having seen the ceremony which was complete with a military band, pipers, buglers a 21 gun salute with Howitzers and a flypast by 4 CF-18s.

First, it’s hard not to notice the soldiers in the honour guard at the memorial. In particular, their age: they’re all so young. Really young! It’s hard not to consider, as they go marching by, that these are the people who have volunteered to go though harsh training, and accept the most dangerous jobs Canadians could have for pay that is certainly not extraordinary. It’s these young people that we all rely on because they will stand up for us when push comes to shove.

Second, the crowds. At the event, I couldn’t tell how many people were there, but there were thousands. I was near (but not at) the front of the crowd and we were pretty well packed in. After the ceremony, people were given the opportunity to place their poppies on the tomb of the unknown soldier, the crowd that lined up to do so was so thick that I decided to pass up on that opportunity. People were also unusually polite, respectful and quiet. I couldn’t help but notice that even after the moment of silence, even when there was nothing to really see or listen too, the crowd was so still. There were also no cases that I saw of people jostling for a position, arguing, or anything of the kind. In fact, people were talking to strangers, asking if they had veterans in their families, where did they serve, what they did and thanking one another for the service of their relatives.

The crowd was also, naturally, very appreciative of the veterans, but to a point I didn’t expect. As the veterans marched passed, the crowed broke into applause. This appreciation, however, was not reserved just for the parade. Some veterans arrived late and walked to the ceremony site by themselves or were pushed in wheelchairs. The crowed broke into separate rounds of applause for each and every veteran that passed, no matter what the circumstances.

Third, the flyby and the 21 gun salute. I’ve been to air shows before and have seen fighter planes pass by, even at low levels, but it’s impressive every time. The CF-18s came in low, in a tight formation and while they may not have screamed passed, they were yelling very loudly. The earth shook and the planes were gone before the sound of their jets reached the people below. That sound followed like a wave passing over the crowed. It’s hard not to be awed by such power.

The Howitzers made an impression too. I think it was the first time I had ever been physically present when such a large weapon was fired. The first shot startled me. The earth shook and I felt the sound echo in my chest. A friend of mine who I spoke to afterwards—who has been around artillery far more than I have—dismissed the salute as somewhat tame. But for me, it was shocking. The sound; the trembling of the earth; the plumes of smoke; and all this after firing shells that weren’t even live ammunition, it made an impression.

I take from both the artillery and the planes that the power we have created for ourselves, the awesomeness of the force we can bring to bear is overwhelming. The sights sounds and smells of an actual war, with its cannons, and planes and guns must be a terrible, terrifying, chaotic clamour and into this, we send those young people.

Finally, there’s the veterans. They were young once too, just like the young soldiers in the parade and they had all seen the worst of war. It just drives home the point of what they must have really gone through and what they have given so that we can live in a free country, where I can write this blog and say whatever I wish, where I can vote, earn a living, and pursue anything I choose. It’s hard to know how to properly express gratitude to these mostly—there were some young Afghanistan war vets there—old people, some of whom marched in the parade with canes. It seems that applauding them as they walked by is so insignificant. I think that perhaps the best way to appreciate their sacrifices to be sure to know about them, read about them, speak to the veterans and be able to pass their stories on.

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