Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanking those who've given so much for Canada

Trevor GreeneGreg KruseMichael Pineau Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial page

Today is Remembrance Day, a day to honour and give thanks to those who died and fought for our country.

When I was a kid, 'war' was a long-ago event that only old men and women had worried about. I remember watching the ceremonies on television and the elderly people taking part in the parades. Each year, the number of eligible Silver Cross Mothers -- mothers of those who had died in war -- dwindled due to age. With more than 100 Canadian soldiers killed while serving in Afghanistan -- and many more injured -- there is a new batch of Silver Cross Mothers, family members and friends who have been directly affected by war in today's modern society.

My grandfather -- Michael Pineau -- served in the First World War with the 105th, 104th and 26th Battalions, as well as the 13th Reserve Battalion. He enlisted 94 years ago today on Nov. 11, 1915, in Charlottetown. After boarding the S.S. Empress of Britain in Halifax on July 15, 1916, he arrived in Liverpool, England, on July 25, 1916.

He fought in France and was wounded; shot in the face. He also developed a pronounced limp after developing arthritis from spending so much time in damp foxholes. He limped for the rest of his life. After the war ended, he was shipped back to Canada, leaving Liverpool -- where he had arrived just over two years before -- on Dec. 12, 1918, and arriving in Halifax again in January. He was discharged on Jan. 24, 1919, and returned to P.E.I. and teaching, his career before entering the army.

I'm not sure when the limp took hold -- in France or back home on P.E.I., but it never stopped him from farming, getting around or raising a large family that included my mother. Regardless, the limp was a daily reminder of his having fought in France and it plagued him until the day he died in December 1986 at the ripe old age of 93.

While my grandfather made it through the war alive and able to carry on with his life -- a very long life, in fact -- the war in Afghanistan is hitting this generation of Canadians very hard, although not at the same terrible levels of the First World War (67,000 Canadians killed), Second World War (45,300 Canadians killed), and other conflicts and peacekeeping missions.

As a percentage of population, the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the two World Wars. The First World War, especially, must have been devastating on so many families. It's the sheer impact that is mind-boggling. Many of us don't know someone personally who's been injured or killed in Afghanistan. In comparison to the two great wars, the numbers are small. Can you imagine living in Canada at the end of the First World War with 67,000 casualties out of a population of only 8.1 million? Everyone likely had a friend or relative who perished. It must have been terrible. I can only imagine -- and I hope it stays that way.

With that said, however, I do happen to have connections to two Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan -- one who died and one who was severely injured and who has shown an amazing amount of courage and strength.

I went to university with Captain Trevor Greene, who was injured in an axe attack in Afghanistan on March 4, 2006. Through a long and hard struggle, he somehow survived his life-threatening injuries and even gives public speeches now on the need for Canada to continue our commitment to the Afghani people. His courage and determination to walk again can only be seen as a testament to his love of life and his family. If you haven't had the chance to catch it, a documentary on his life after his injury is rerun from time to time on television. In fact, "Peace Warrior" recently won a Gemini Award for best biography documentary. It's truly uplifting.

Another King's classmate, Jill (Little) Kruse, lost her husband Sgt. Greg Kruse last Dec. 27 after a roadside bomb went off. Two days earlier, on Christmas Day, he'd called her to tell her the news that they were being transferred back home to CFB Gagetown near Fredericton. Needless to say, her happiness was short lived: two days.

After university, Jill and I lost touch for several years, however we reconnected recently thanks to Facebook. I remember reading about her anguish of his leaving for Afghanistan. I only knew the name of one Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan -- Sgt. Greg Kruse -- and on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 28, when my radio alarm went off, I heard on the national news that "Sgt. Greg Kruse" had been killed. I bolted awake instantly and ran to my computer to check Facebook to see if it was true. Jill's Facebook page was already filled with messages of condolences and grief.

I've followed her on Facebook ever since, of course. She's moved back to the Fredericton area and is trying to move on with her three young daughters. There are good days and bad days. This is the year of firsts: the first birthdays without Greg, the first wedding anniversary without him, the first Christmas without him, the first anniversary of his death. I admire her strength. Remembrance Day this year will be particularly poignant for Jill, her daughters, and the rest of the family.

Today is Remembrance Day. I wear my poppy proudly. I hope you do, too. I remember my grandfather who somehow miraculously made it out alive and lived a long life. I remember Captain Trevor Greene who hopes to walk again someday. I remember Sgt. Greg Kruse who never made it home. Thank you all.

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