LLOYDMINSTER - 'Remember the past, or you're doomed to repeat it.'
That was one of the last things that Gordon Joyes told this reporter when The Outlook asked him why it's so important to remember every November 11.
It's a popular statement, but perhaps it has never been more true with the world that we all live in today.
Joyes, who used to call Conquest home growing up and now lives in Lloydminster, has been involved with the Wounded Warriors Weekend Foundation since the non-profit was started in 2012. Run by volunteers, Joyes has served as the lottery chairman for the organization, which holds camps in the province each year that bring together veterans and emergency responders.
Gordon says it was his start with the Royal Canadian Legion that served as the launch point for working with veterans.
"My connection with veterans in the Legion was what inspired me to start working with them," said Gordon, on Wounded Warriors. "I had a 20-year membership with them, getting very involved at several offices, and I ran bingos and helped with several events, such as the Poppy Campaign in North Battleford. Mainly, I was a fundraiser, and it's something I've done most of my life!"
The work that Joyes does, which sees him travel around to different parts of Saskatchewan and setting up shop to sell raffle tickets on major prizes such as fishing boats and trailers, can see him really pack on the miles. In the summer of 2022, Gordon put 13,000 kilometres on his vehicle driving across the province. But that kind of stuff is immaterial to him; whatever he can do for the organization to help spread its message and raise funds, he will do to the best of his ability.
The after effects can bring their own sense of reward.
"Oh yes, very much so," said Joyes. "When you see the look on their face and the change in their families after they get a service dog, or when they come to our camps, we actually got a letter from a wife one time that said, 'Thank you, I sent my soldier to Wounded Warriors, but my husband came home.' Another letter once said, 'Thank you, and the kids thank you for sending their daddy back.' Another time, when I was in Carlyle, I'd just set up in front of the Co-op and this guy walked up. He told me, 'Wounded Warriors saved my life', and his wife says, 'It saved his life and our marriage.'"
Having worked closely with the organization for so long, Joyes can't help but feel a sense of pride in what Wounded Warriors is capable of doing for veterans.
"Very much so," he said. "Like I've always said, it's just the fact that you feel you're doing something good when you see all those good expressions and good remarks coming back from people who attend the camps. Most of the time though, I don't get to see them because I'm on the road selling tickets and raising money. But I get lots of letters from the guys or comments on Facebook when they see me on there, and it really makes me feel good because you help them and you help people from far away who come to attend our camps, and you know that they may change your life. I grew up with a veteran, and I didn't know why my dad was like the way that he was until I met these guys and learned what PTSD was really like."
Gordon's father George served his country, which in turn inspired Joyes to join his local Legion branch.
"He was a sergeant in the Expeditionary Force that was formed before the First World War, and that came out of Moose Jaw," he said. "My dad's experiences in the Army didn't necessarily move me to work with Wounded Warriors, but it was more his involvement in the Legion in Conquest. He was always a member of the Legion, so when I had a chance to join, I joined it for that reason, as well as to socialize."
While the inner battles that too many veterans suffer through are what groups like Wounded Warriors puts focus on, Joyes himself is going through a battle of his own as he's fighting esophageal cancer. Of course, speaking on the phone with the spirited Gordon, this reporter or anyone else for that matter would have no idea that he's in the midst of another round with The Big C.
"It's going great," he said. "Still no different right now then ordinarily. I did have a little bit of a setback as the first couple of shots of chemo weren't working, but hopefully this new stuff will be okay. We don't know if the results are good, but my doctors have high expectations of these results. But I feel good and I'm holding my weight, with lots of energy. Right now, you probably wouldn't know if I had cancer."
The diagnosis hasn't exactly hindered his work with Wounded Warriors, though. Joyes says he himself decided to step back a little bit, but he still found energy to get back out on the road supporting the organization. He says that people can't relate or understand something if they haven't gone through a similar ordeal as Canada's veterans have faced, which is why the work that the non-profit does is so important.
"I wouldn't say it was the cancer so much, as I just decided that I was going to pull back anyway," he said. "You do want to take it easy because you don't want to overdo it. But I did go out for a couple of weeks this year on the road, and I'm looking forward to next year already, getting back out on the road! We have to keep it going, as there's too much good for the soldiers that it does. They don't know where to go for help, so they come to us and they come to the camps. You and I, if we BOTH had cancer, we could say, 'Oh, I understand how you feel'. But you can't understand something if you haven't gone through it yourself. All of these guys have gone through something."
The work that Gordon has done and continues to do was definitely noticed earlier this spring, when he was one of the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal, bestowed to Joyes by Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty. Gordon was blown away by the honour and enjoyed speaking with Mirasty in Regina.
"It was fantastic," he said. "It was a very rewarding due, and it made me feel good. To meet the Lieutenant Governor, he is such a nice person. When he comes and sits down with you, you wouldn't know he was the Lt. Governor, as he just talks with you and there's no ego or anything like that."
Of course, while such important accolades are great, Gordon doesn't do the work that he carries out for any kind of recognition. For him, the end result is the greatest reward. And as Remembrance Day is just days away, Joyes says it's important to take a moment and reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who came before many of us.
"If you don't remember history, you're going to repeat it," he said. "That's how I feel when I remember those who stepped forward, and some of them gave their lives."
Canada joins Gordon in Remembering this coming Saturday, November 11.