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Remembering the Generations of Veterans

Christine Whelan FEO, November 10, 2022, VOL. 4 ISSUE 6

On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve. During times of war, individual acts of heroism occur frequently. Only a few are ever recorded and receive official recognition.

The members of the Royal Canadian Legion are dedicated to supporting Veterans and their families in need, honouring those who sacrificed for our country and providing essential services within our communities.

The act of Remembrance is one of the most important ways to honour and thank Veterans for their sacrifices. ~ RCL website

Lesley Kinghorn is a member of Fort Erie’s Frontier Branch (71), located at 130 Garrison Road, and has been Public Relations Officer with the Legion for years. “A lot of our new members now are like people like me. I joined because my dad was a Veteran, and my grandad was a Veteran. We were never Veterans ourselves but we joined because of them.”

She added, “I actually joined right after Albert Storm was killed. He was a Fort Erie boy. That’s what made me join. I thought, maybe I could do something because it was so sad to lose him.”

In these days leading to November 11, Lesley says she’s quite busy. Along with her schedule, “We’re doing services with the schools this year. Of course, we haven’t done this in a couple of years with the pandemic. So, it’s been really fun. We’re really enjoying it.” She explained the presentation is a short service, about an hour.

“We send a Colour guard.” A Colour guard is a detachment of soldiers assigned to the protection of regimental colours and the national flag. “It will include a Sergeant of Arms and our President. I’m the First Vice this year. I always go because I’ve been a part of the Colour party for years.

“We show all the kids the different flags and what they mean. For example, our World War I soldiers fought under the Union Jack because they fought with the British. And we have the United Nations flag which our peacekeepers have fought under.”

Vets Helping Vets

Lesley began, “When the Legion was founded in 1925, the idea was to provide a place for Veterans to support each other.”

She explained that Veterans used to join the Legion all the time. “They never thought about why they did it, it was something they just did. Those coming back from the First and Second World Wars, their post-traumatic stress was awful and there was nobody to talk to. So, the only people they spoke to were other Vets who had been there, and experienced it.”

And continued with a bit of a story. “One of our Veterans here was in the Korean Conflict. He suffers to this day from post-traumatic stress. He’s 90 years old. A doctor asked him to speak to a number of Veterans coming home from Afghanistan and he said, ‘Oh no no no. I’m not going to get involved in that.’ But his wife finally talked him into doing it. The doctor said he introduced the Vet and never said another word. The senior Vet could say he knew how they felt, and what they experienced. The doctor admitted, he could not. He could not help in that way.”

Lesley likes to see the older Vets taking the young Vets under their wings, so to speak.

When asked about how much Canada has been active since the World Wars that we traditionally hear about during Remembrance Day, she answered, “From the Gulf War on, we’ve been involved consistently.”

I spoke with another very passionate and involved member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Frontier Branch (71) in Fort Erie who, like Lesley, became a Legion member because of loved ones. She has a history with a branch in Toronto where her father was a Legion member and has now been helping at the Fort Erie Branch since she and her husband, who is also a member, moved to Fort Erie in 2019.

Echoing Lesley’s statement, she feels that, while Remembrance Day is a very important day to remember the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom in the World Wars, it is also a time to be reminded that since then, Canada has been active continuously.

She commented, “Back in our parents’ and especially grandparents’ day, everybody knew someone who was serving. There were always two or three guys on the street who had served. We had that connection. We’ve lost that.” So, we don’t think about it.

“If you go to canada.ca, under the Canadian Armed Forces, for example, there’s a complete list of all the different past operations that Canada has been on. It’s constant.

“For example, Peru. We’ve had service members there since 1968. We still have people in the Kongo They’ve been there since 2010, but are not widely recognized because it’s not such a huge thing.”

A Peacekeeping Force

This Legion member commented, “Canada is known as a peacekeeping force. That’s our main reputation.”

She clarified, “One of the things that people don’t take into consideration is, being peacekeepers doesn’t mean they’re going over there as a referee and met with flowers. There is still conflict in a peacekeeping type of environment. A lot of people think that peacekeeping is going into an area that is already looked after.”

After spending much time in long conversations with Veterans of all ages and newcomers to Canada, this Legion member was able to share, “For the most part, people around the world living in conflicts especially, the very first Canadian they ever meet in their life is a blue helmet. These are our peacekeepers.”

She added, “A lot of people choose to immigrate to Canada because the Canadian peacekeeping soldier they first met was so nice.”

Difference In Perspective

According to the Legion member when talking about their Literary and Poster Contest that they run every year, “The submissions from Canadian kids and the submissions from kids from immigrant families are very different because their experience, their knowledge, of our Veterans is so completely different. From our perspective, it could be, the neighbour went over and served, maybe a grandfather. With the immigrant kids, a Canadian is someone who came over and saved our village.”

Post Traumatic Stress

When inquiring about how we, as a country, acknowledge those who have served in conflicts post Korea, Legion members who have regular conversations with the younger Vets say, those who have served in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Bosnia, and Serbia are not quite at the point where they are ready to talk about it yet.

“It takes a lot to recover,” explained one member, “I know some people who served in Vietnam and they are barely at the point now where they are ready to talk about it, to a school, for example. They are still coming to terms with what they have been through themselves.”

She continued, “One thing that the soldiers have now that they didn’t have back in the day is the recognition of PTSD,” and therefore, the support services. “It’s not just one-on-one help. Veterans Affairs and a lot of the Legions have communal groups. Especially during COVID. It’s like the coffee check-in, where they could go and chat. Like a group therapy session.”

Referring to the camaraderie, “A lot of the guys these days prefer to stay at the armouries because they are still with others who are serving and active.”

How Many Local Next Generation Vets?

At the Fort Erie Legion, when you first go in the door, there is a list of those who have fallen, a memorial wall for those who served in Afghanistan,” contradicting the ‘peacekeeping’ reputation.

For a lot of people, when they attend the Legion’s Remembrance Day ceremony is when they realize we have Veterans from other wars. When the wreaths are laid for the Gulf War soldiers, for the Bosnia soldiers, for Afghanistan, it dawns on people, we had soldiers there, too.

A Legion member remarked, “Because it’s not something that is in your face every day, that everyone is involved in, it’s easy to forget.”

Every Legion Branch has a list of its ordinary members, which are the Veterans, those who have served and those who are currently serving.

Every Branch has lost. It’s not just guys from the past. And it’s still something that touches our community even though we’re not aware of it. We as a society, have to remember that just because there’s not somebody on our block that served, doesn’t mean we haven’t served.

To learn more about the Royal Canadian Legion, go to www.legion.ca

To contact the Fort Erie Branch, phone (905) 871-9566

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