November 11. Remembrance.
November 11 is a somber day for many. In Canada, we call it Remembrance Day. There is much to remember.
I was born in 1960, and my country was continually at peace until I was in my 30s. My children have grown up in a period of nearly continual war for our country, with our soldiers seeing combat in the Gulf War, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Growing up in Calgary, my home was nestled between two military bases, called at the time Currie and Sarcee. Soldiers were part of everyday experience on the streets. Military vehicles and helicopters were an everyday sight. We even played on a pair of WWII tanks that were displayed at the entrance to Sarcee Barracks.
Although we were at peace, war was still in the air.
My father, like many of the fathers in the neighbourhood was a veteran of the Second World War. A few of the younger men had served in Korea. There were two seniors’ homes nearby; many of the residents loved to tell their memories to eager little boys like me.
How odd that my childhood was full of memories of war, with games of war with other boys, with the very real presence of soldiers and equipment, and peace. Glorious peace.
One small memory before I search for a way to conclude this piece. In my early teens—sometime in the early to mid 1970s—a couple of friends and I cut through a corner of the Sarcee base, on our way to trout fishing in the Elbow river. There was a firing range and a few out buildings in that corner. If there were no shots, we knew there was no one around to interrupt our shortcut. We walked past a small storage building and looked inside a screened window. The building housed hundreds of WWII targets: squint-eyed Japanese soldiers, crouching while holding machine guns. Every target identical, and every target the size of a small man. For the first time, I felt the violence of the long passed war. I felt the reality that these men I knew had been taught to shoot at a de-humanized caricature of men, so that they could one day shoot at the real thing.
I don’t know if they were still using these targets, 30 years after the conflict ended. It must’ve seemed cartoonish and comical to the soldiers if they did.
So what does this all add up to? I don’t know, really. November 11 is a day of remembrance. And I remember. I mostly remember my father, even though he found his wartime experiences to be rather uninteresting, so far as I could tell. I remember the men who smelled of pipe smoke as they told me stories that seemed unreal. I remember that November 11 was very important to them. And I remember that it is only by luck that I was not required to serve in similarly dehumanizing circumstances.