Thanks, veterans

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We’d like to offer a tip of the hat, helmet, beret or wedge cap to all Bow Valley veterans, from whatever arm of their nation’s armed forces they served in.

We also encourage residents to be on hand at one of the valley’s Remembrance Day services and give a moment’s thought to the sacrifices our veterans have made, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

As the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of this month strikes on Saturday (Nov. 11), cast your mind back to the First World War, where tens of thousands of young Canadian men lost their lives in the mud of European trench warfare.

As well, please make note that we no longer have any First World War veterans. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, Ontarian John Babcock, who died in 2010 at age 109, was the very last. At age 15, one of 13 children, Babcock joined the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Canadians again comported themselves proudly in the Second World War, including those from the Bow Valley. As with the Great War, Canadians were often considered among the elite fighting men and were often handed the most dangerous, and bloody, assignments.

Through the Korean conflict, peacekeeping missions around the globe under the auspices of the United Nations, and, most recently, in Afghanistan, Canadians, including women in more recent conflicts, have served in many theatres – and were often beacons of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

In the end, of course, from 1914 to 2014 and the present day, soldiers, like the vast majority of the public, did not focus on grand, global political ideals when they signed up. Often as not, they signed up because they were swept up in national pride, in particular with the two world wars, or because they felt a call to duty, or fell into line with friends, or followed a family’s military history.

At the very end, though, at the sharp end of the sword, when lives are on the line, soldiers almost unanimously will declare that, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the brotherhood and sisterhood – of fighting for, and with, the person next to them first and foremost. Grand ideals are soon forgotten in the haze of battle, but not the welfare of comrades.

And, lest we forget, few veterans have returned from combat unscathed, either physically or, less obviously, mentally. As former Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry veteran Allan Russell recently stated in an interview, not all soldiers return home with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), but they all return affected in some way after what they witnessed in whatever corner of the globe they served in.

From the earliest days of conflict on a global scale, Canadians have been subjected to the worst conditions imaginable. Whether it was ‘shell shock,’ ‘battle fatigue’ or ‘combat stress reaction,’ the effects of war, or peacekeeping, are as variable as the veterans who lived through it.

Only in recent years has the true toll veterans paid through their service come to light. Many veterans have returned home with many issues related to frontline service. Families have been crushed, careers ruined and lives lost due to stresses incurred while serving.

In fact, one need look no further for insight on PTSD than former Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s book, Waiting For First Light, My Ongoing Battle with PTSD.

In his book, Dallaire, force commander of UN forces during the 1994 Rwandan massacre, shares harrowing, vivid, dark details of his years of coping, often badly, with PTSD.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook