Children certainly have a difficult time understanding public holidays. As I remember Canada’s annual day to honour our fallen soldiers, I recall how I grew to understand the full importance of the day.
When I was about three or four years old, my family gathered in the living room before Eleven o’clock. Dad tried to explain to my sister Diane and me about the soldiers that fought enemy nations to free them from wicked people. As he spoke, all I wanted to do was return to my toys in the basement.
At Eleven o’clock, Dad told us to be absolutely quiet for a minute to show respect to Canada’s fallen forces. When I asked how that would help them, he shooshed me. What a long moment that seemed. Whenever I fidgeted or started to ask if I could go play, both of my parents hushed me until at last, the waiting was over.
By the time I started school, Remembrance Day still seemed mysterious. During grade one, Mom dressed Diane and me up in our winter clothes. Our teacher phoned just then to announce that there was no school that day due to the Remembrance Day holiday. As Mom approached to take our coats off, inspiration struck. “Since we’re dressed already, can we go outside to play?” I asked. Mom saw no problem with that so we dashed out the front door to have fun. We observed a minute of silence at Eleven but it was just something we had to do to me.
At Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind, our supervisors also made us observe a moment of silence. Though a few boys were moved by the thought of the armistice, I felt irritated. World War One was a million years ago, or so it seemed, and it had no personal impact on me.
As I grew older, I began to understand the importance of the sacrifice our soldiers made. But I never attended a Remembrance Day ceremony until I began working for a living. I felt mooved as I saw the veterins in their uniforms and heard the service. Being with those who fought tyranny in two world wars as well as in Korea made history tangible to me. No longer was it some event in a distant land a long time ago but a living past.
I’m pleased that veterins are now receiving society’s respect. Time was when some citizens showed a regrettable lack of appreciation to these valliant heros during the Vietnam war years and afterward. One veterin even told me about how some young peace activist called him a “war pig” and a “baby killer.” I could tell by his tone of voice how deeply these insults wounded him. Let’s never let our people in uniform be treated so shamefully again.
I wrote about meeting military personnel in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School. Visit the Bruce Atchison’s books page for details. Meanwhile, I have a new book out called How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers distribute it in e-book as well as in paperback.