When I was a young girl growing up in Northern Manitoba Remembrance Day meant chilly morning services that I was encouraged to attend through school events and through the small tight knit community where I lived. Even though I was born into a long time military family (members serving at Vimy Ridge, WW2, Peace time, Bosnia, Korean and Afghanistan to list a few) I was just going through the motions.
As I was remembering those young and old who had served our country I was remembering strangers through pictures, stories and other people’s memories. I grew up listening to the stories of those who left home to serve their country so that we can live in peace. They were defending our Canadian ideals of freedom, democracy and equality for all citizens of this fragile planet.
They always came home. They went through hell. They seen their friends’ parish in front of them. They seen what oppression and hate could do to a country. They themselves felt at times that they would never see their loved ones again but they always came home. Some returned battered and bruised both physically and mentally, but they always came home.
In 2006 my cousin was deployed to Afghanistan for his first tour of duty. At 25 years of age he knew that his calling was to serve. Having witnessed the good that he was doing first hand only strengthened his passion for helping people. He wore his uniform with extreme pride. In 2008 he deployed for his 2nd tour with plans for a 3rd in 2009 already being planned. We would listen with such attention to ever news report about the fighting and soldiers that were losing their lives with great nervousness yet a slight naive notion that “It won’t happen to him”.
On July 18, 2008 I woke up to the news reports that the 88th Canadian Soldier to lose his life in Afghanistan was in fact my cousin, Corporal James Hayward Arnal. From that moment on our world would forever be changed. It brought a truth to Remembrance Day and every day since. It has created an emptiness in our hearts and has brought us all closer together no matter how near or far we may be. It has taken us from a distant feeling of remembrance of people in pictures and stories and has made it all too real and personal for us all. It has made my children painfully aware of the sacrifice made by so many throughout the years as it is often taken for granted. It has also taught us all that remembering is important and it is our duty as Canadians to keep the memories of all alive.
We will stand with strangers, friends, family and veterans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We will be scattered throughout this beautiful country. We will remember those who still serve our country as men and women in uniform and in harm’s way.
Christine F – INLIV