Remembering lives lost & saved & stories never told

Laurel Pruden, Nurs ’06
Laurel Pruden, Nurs ’06

What is Remembrance Day? What are we remembering?

We all know the standard answers: “I remember the people who fought and died for freedom,” or “I remember my grandpa.” But these answers are a bit superficial. These collective memories are really all we have now since most of us have never experienced war. While these shared memories are important, it is even more important for individuals to figure out for themselves what remembrance means to them. For most Canadians, it seems that Nov. 11 has become a day where we go through some rehearsed motions and maybe, if it’s convenient, stop for two minutes. But there is so much more to the day than just typing “Thanks vets!” as your MSN name.

As a child, I remember making construction paper crosses, reciting “In Flanders Fields,” buying poppies at the grocery store, and seeing the veterans at our school assemblies. But of all these things about Remembrance Day, the one thing that has always stuck with me was seeing the veterans cry.

I started then to wonder about these men. Despite their weathered bodies, they looked strong and proud in their uniforms. But it was their eyes that really caught me. They were soft and brimming with tears. What had they seen, I wondered. What had they done? Who did they lose? Now I wonder what I will remember on a day that commemorates events and people that I have no personal connection to.

Of course, I will have to go with one of the standard answers and say that I will remember my grandpa. He volunteered and served as a medic in Italy during World War II. I asked my mom what she knew about his experiences, but she had very little to say. He had told her nothing. My grandma knew just a couple of stories and passed them to my mom. They were vague and I was told that he mostly spoke of the excitement of being overseas. I have a friend whose grandpa earned a prestigious medal in WWII, but refused to give any indication of what he did do get it. The most he ever said about it was that it was terrible. What weren’t they saying? Why couldn’t they let it out? Today, I will remember the stories never told.

Thousands upon thousands of Canadian soldiers have died fighting for their country. They came from different walks of life and joined the military for different reasons. But despite their differences, they came together to fight against what was believed to be injustice. They made a sacrifice greater than any of us can imagine. Today, I will remember soldiers fallen.

War reveals the best and worst of humanity. Death, pain, loss. They are all a part of it. But so too is courage. Trust. Selflessness. Soldiers have left the comfort and familiarity of their homes and countries so that they could save a child from suffering. So that a family could continue to pray to their god. So that a woman could walk out of her house without fear. Today, I will remember the lives saved.

In Kingston, we have constant reminders of Canada’s military, both past and present. The city is home to RMC, Fort Henry and CFB Kingston. There seem to be monuments and memorials everywhere in this town. Try walking down Princess Street on a weekday without passing a person in uniform. These people have given up some of their freedoms so that when needed, they will be ready to protect the freedoms of others. We sometimes forget to acknowledge the contributions of current members of the military, but it is just as important to remember our soldiers now as it is to think of them when they have become veterans. Today, I will remember our soldiers.

As a society, and especially among the younger generation, we have become somewhat complacent about Remembrance Day. This year, challenge yourself to focus on remembering more than your grocery list during the two minutes of silence. Think about the world and war, both past and present. Figure it out and make remembrance meaningful to you. Today, what will you remember?

Laurel Pruden is a member of the Canadian Forces’ Regular Officer Training Program.

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