My Pa is 94 years old and was in the navy in WWII. But don’t bother asking him about his experiences. He once told me that when he got home, he only wanted to focus on the future. A couple of years ago, he changed his policy and agreed to be interviewed by Kathleen’s grade three class by skype. How could he say no to his great-grand-daughter? That day, I sat with him in his nursing home with my laptop, and the Ridley kids watched him on their SMARTBoard. Each time a student asked a question, Pa gave a little laugh. One little boy eagerly asked, “What is your favorite memory of the war?”
I cringed, but without a pause, my Pa answered: “That’s easy. I was a decoder on a ship, so I was the first to get a very important message that I delivered to the captain. The message read: Germany has surrendered. The war is over.
I loved hearing his story and it seemed like he got a kick out of the experience with the kids, but after that, he reverted back to his vow of silence about the war. So he doesn’t call himself a vet, he’s never going to try a program called Operation Veteran, and I don’t even know what he would think about the Kee family trip to Ottawa to join 16 CAIS schools across Canada for Remembrance Day.
I believe every Canadian should attend the ceremony in Canada’s capital. I was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the crowd, to see our Prime Minister and Governor General, to be shaken by each shot of the 21-gun salute, and to gaze up as the planes and helicopters flew overhead. There were 30,000 people on the streets and yet there was absolute silence at the eleventh hour.
Our trip to Ottawa was inspired by a dentist in Laval who is on a mission. Dr. Paul Kavanagh and his wife Trudy started Operation Veteran, a program to provide a lunch to every veteran who visits the Canadian War Museum. They are so passionate about supporting the museum and Canada’s veterans that they inspired 250 students from 46 schools across Canada to come to Ottawa for Remembrance Day.
Our group carried flags and walked down to the War Museum where we ate lunch together then visited the exhibit. Now I admit that, at times, I wasn’t sure of the objectives of the museum – I felt uneasy watching the students’ excitement over every gun and the mob of flashes around Hitler’s black Mercedes – why are we remembering this? But the museum does capture the bitter experiences of both men and women, and my kids were engaged in Canada’s history all afternoon. We left with a deeper understanding of the horror of war.
Watching one man push a vet in a wheelchair made me think about my Pa who will never set foot in that museum. I understand – and respect – why he wants to forget the past. Actually, there’s one special reason why I am thankful that he did focus explicitly on the future. When my Pa came home from the war, he met his baby for the first time…his son, my Dad. I like to think that his firstborn was the spark that quickly shifted his focus from past to present.
So on Remembrance day, my hope is that we help our students – through ceremonies, assemblies or trips to museums – to stop and shift from present to past in the hopes of ensuring a future of peace.
p.s. Read the article featuring CAIS schools.