I was young back then – idealistic.
During my first Remembrance Day ceremony as a soldier, I stood outside a Canadian Legion in a small country town.
The wind was cold and bitter, yet myself and my brothers and sisters stood motionless at attention. I remember thinking that tolerating the snapping winds and biting cold was the very least I could do.
Especially with our veterans from the Second World War present. I observed men with folds in their skin sit and stand in quiet, contemplative discipline – a discipline instilled when they were young and idealistic. Some of them cried, some stared far beyond the pavement with a stoic gaze.
It was a profound and humbling moment in my life.
As a kid, I watched old war movies and played with sticks shaped like guns many an afternoon in the woods behind my home. And now, in that moment, I was a soldier, standing in ranks, observing possible futures for myself and those standing with me.
I served during my country’s wartime. The war to end all wars sadly did little to combat man’s hubris – and thus war came once again, and again, and again – all the way to my generation. So you see, watching these aged warriors mourn and remember, and then pondering my own future. was not an unrealistic facsimile.
I never thought I’d ever be as brave or as heroic. It was their grief I related to. And that burden of war would indeed befall me too:
• Aug. 11, 2006: Cpl. Andrew James Eykelenboom was killed while on mission in Afghanistan. He was just 23, and a mere 14 days from returning home. He was also the first Canadian medic to be killed in combat since Korea. And subsequently, his casket was also the first I’d carry…but not the last.
• May 6, 2008: Cpl. Michael Starker, killed while on mission in Afghanistan. Another medic, a friend, a brother and, unquestionably, a hero. He now rests in a cemetery in Calgary.
• July 6, 2008: Pte. Colin Wilmot, killed on mission in Afghanistan. He was not slated to be on tour, but he worked hard, clawed and demanded (the best a private can) for a chance to deploy. When a position became available, he went. Colin was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol. He was a dear friend – family, really.
As the years pass, the eleventh of November always returns, and along with it a winter’s wind. As it does, and I stand in the chilled air, my skin earns its folds. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I stand in quiet, contemplative discipline, simply staring far beyond the pavement with a stoic gaze.
Remembrance Day is a poignant time. I am no hero, nor a member of the greatest generation, but I now understand their heavy rumination when remembering those we have lost. At the going down of the sun, I will remember them.
Our flag does not fly in the wind, it moves with the last breath of each soldier who has died defending it. My dearest brothers & sisters, I remember you.
Former Salmon Arm resident Matthew Heneghan served as a medic with the Canadian military, works as a paramedic and is the author of the book, A Medic’s Mind. Matthew currently resides in Falkland.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter