Why exactly do we remember every November 11?
It's a question that some Canadians might pose, depending on their viewpoint in life.
For some, it might be a viewpoint of maintaining civil peace and trying to avoid the mistakes of yesteryear. For others, it may be a viewpoint of extremist beliefs and being at the absolute ready for any kind of battle. That latter statement may be shocking to some, but here's a question for you: have you seen the news lately? In some parts of our world, life is still violent, and in those hostile parts of Planet Earth, they may remember every November in order to keep themselves focused on extremist measures that some believe must be carried out.
It's a far cry from what many other people do to answer that question, such as raising funds for veterans' needs and assisting the Royal Canadian Legion.
To put it bluntly, our world is a mixed bag of humanity.
When I was a kid, I took Remembrance Day for granted. The only thing that mattered to me was the fact that it was a day off from school and I could sleep in a little later. And if it happened to fall on a Friday? Oh man, three-day weekend! Jackpot!
Yep, that was basically all the respect that I had as a kid for Remembrance Day. You know why? Because I was a kid who hadn't had his eyes opened up yet to the horrors of war, the sacrifices made, and the impact of it all still being felt around the globe. That came later, and boy, did it ever come rushing hard.
I suppose it was my later high school years when I stopped smiling at the thought of a day off from school and started acknowledging the bigger, broader scope of it all, especially in Grade 11 when our class was responsible for putting together the Remembrance Day program at Outlook High School.
But I'd have to say that it's been my day to day job that's really opened my eyes over the years to all that generations of Canadians have done and sacrificed so that everyday "normal folk" like you and I can continue to live the lives that we lead. I've interviewed veterans of world wars, I've interviewed veterans of international disputes, and I've covered all manner of Remembrance Day events. I've spoken with people closing in on 90 years of age, and I've spoken with people who are the same age as me; all of them linked together as people who've decided to serve their country, and all of them with major sets of, well, let's just call them 'cahones'.
One of my closest best friends is a veteran. Alex Li, who I've known for over 20 years since high school, served as a Signal Operator in the Canadian Forces, and he saw action over in Afghanistan. In fact, he also saw some shrapnel that wound up in his leg. Alex isn't the only friend of mine who's served his country, as my buddy Cory McCutcheon from Conquest and my friend Cathan Perry of Macrorie are also decorated veterans. In fact, Cathan is doing a talk at the Outlook Museum on Saturday for Remembrance Day, so be sure you're around town for that.
As long as I remain on this earth, I'll always remember key interviews, especially those with veterans of the Great Wars. In May 2013, I drove down to the village of Elbow on a Friday afternoon to visit the home of Art Knutson. I'd learned that Art had served as a tail gunner for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 434 Bluenose Squadron during World War II, and I was eager to learn his story and hear his thoughts as a living veteran.
After the usual introductions and pleasantries, Art and I took a seat in his living room. I don’t think 30 seconds had passed before Art came out with the following:
“You know, I suppose there were four different times over there that I should’ve been killed.”
My spine went cold, my jaw fell agape, and it’s a small miracle that I didn’t drop my cup of coffee on Art and wife Maridell’s carpet. Throughout the rest of our talk that afternoon, I was hooked on what Art had to say and I appreciated how open he was with a person who was a stranger just an hour or so before.
When Art died four years later in 2017, I was not only sorry to hear of his passing, but sorry for the reminder that veterans such as Art were becoming more of a rarity as time went on.
It doesn't necessarily have to be people that can inspire you. Lone, solitary objects can carry a deep message, which was something that I was reminded of just this past week. On Friday afternoon, I took a drive around the west countryside and made stops in Conquest, Milden, Dinsmore, and Macrorie because I wanted to check out each community's war memorial. When Friday came and went, I picked up on my tour on Sunday, touring around and going to Birsay, Lucky Lake, Beechy, Loreburn, Strongfield, and ending my jaunt back here in Outlook. Ten communities with I'm sure mountains of stories to tell.
These memorials told stories in their own right. They're monuments that make us remember. They're solitary vigils that remind us of the violence of war. They're tributes to the men and women who came before us.
I can only recommend that some of you go out and take a look at your community's war memorials, statues, and cenotaphs because odds are they'll tell you something and open your eyes to another thing.
When I take all of these things into account: the events, the interviews, the stories, the lessons learned, the perspectives gained, the photos taken, and the range of knowledge expanded over the years, I'm reminded of exactly why we do remember every November 11.
And the answer is quite simple.
It's so we don't ever forget.
For this week, that's been the Ruttle Report.