Monday, 20 April 2009

Armistice, Remembrance, Veterans' Day

(A talk given as guest speaker in Memorial Park, Colorado Springs, 11 November 2005)

It is a pleasure and, indeed, an honour to address such a large group of caring people.

This hour is one of the very few in the year when we pause to remember, and to honour, all of our countrymen - and women - who have sacrificed their lives for us.

I find it painful to realize that there are no words that I can use that have not been said over and over again at least ever since Pericles, almost 2,500 years ago, so eloquently praised those who had died in the defence of Athens. In all that time our species has failed to really honour our dead, and our living veterans, by eradicating the root causes of war.

I remain haunted by memories, not only of the 125 friends of mine who lost their young lives in wars, and whom I can still name, but also of the people I have killed and the destruction that I have caused. Correcting this gross human failure is a subject too vast for my few minutes at this podium, so forgive me if I digress to just toss a few facts and figures at you.

Canada and the United States have exchanged over 150,000 warriors, mainly during periods when one has been at war while the other was neutral. During two world wars Canada was fighting for 5 years longer than the U.S. During these years, tens of thousands of US citizens joined Canadian forces. We were together in Korea and the first Gulf War. We thought it unwise to go into Vietnam, nevertheless over 35,000 Canadians joined US forces to fight in Vietnam, and many died. We are together in Afghanistan. In Iraq, Canadians were with the British who freed it from Ottoman rule in WWI, but the UK lost 10,000 men trying to make it a united, modern, and democratic country after WWI, so we thought military force was still questionable this time. However, some Canadians are also serving with US forces in Iraq.

In the Second Civil War in the United States - you will recall the first one was fought in the 1770s - 19-year-old Calixa Lavalee was one of 40,000 Canadians fighting for the North. His platoon had suffered many casualties in bloody battles, and were weary and ragged as they advanced towards yet another skirmish. With his cornet Calixa played a 1750 British tune "To Anacreon in Heaven". It was not known as such to the U.S. troops as someone had taken the tune and changed the words to make it a US tune called "The Star Spangled Banner." Calixa's performance rejuvenated his platoon and they pressed on. Later, in 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote new words for it as the British burned government buildings in Washington in retaliation for the US burning such buildings during their invasion of York (Toronto). Surviving the war, Calixa went on to write a musical comedy and worked with Broadway before returning to Canada where he composed what was to become Canada's national anthem, "0 Canada".

For you from the Southern States, Canada also looked after Confederate wounded ignoring a warning that the North would launch yet another invasion of Canada because of this. Actually, there are many lessons on the futility of starting wars. King Zaggesi of Umma, in Iraq’s Fertile Crescent, learned it almost 5,000 years ago. He built a military, looted nearby cities, but was eventually defeated to end his days in a neck stock. Napoleon learned it in 1815; Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan in 1945. Today Canada honours and puts on postage stamps Louis Riel whom they hanged in 1885, now realizing that the military force used to quell his so-called uprising was unnecessary; and the US when its military, in spite of numerous invasions, was unable to conquer Canada, now sees its businesses and its media being successful in conquering large segments of the Canadian economy. The Germans, Italians, and Japanese have all conquered more economically than militarily.

Because Canada has been a major exporter of fighting men, its military contributions have not had their deserved publicity. We have contributed over a million men to British forces, over 80,000 to U.S. Forces, and the highest number of any country to the UN, although we have slipped recently. During WWII we had 78 RCAF squadrons, 46 of them overseas, yet 60 % of Canadian aircrew (17,111) flew on RAF squadrons. In addition to the 15 Canadian squadrons in Bomber Command, Canadians manned 25% of RAF bomber squadrons. We just did not have enough of our own squadrons to accommodate all those who flocked to the colours. In WWI Canada had more air aces, with 35 or more victories, than any other country except Germany yet this is largely unknown as they flew with RFC/RAF squadrons (Germany 17, Canada 8, UK 7, France 5, Australia, Ireland, and South Africa 2 each, Austria-Hungary and Belgium 1 each). In WWII, Canada trained 308,000 aircrew for the UK, Australia, New Zealand, itself, and 14,000 for the U.S. We also trained several thousands in ground trades for the United States.

The training schools in the UK, Canada, Rhodesia, and South Africa were not enough in the early years of the war, so the RAF sent the overflow as civilians to train in the neutral US. On 7 December 1941, people here were surprised to see the sudden appearance of RAF uniforms on their streets as these trainees were now allowed to extract their uniforms from their duffle bags and wear them.

It has been a 2-way street. Over 60,000 US citizens have served in Canadian forces. In fact, so many from the southern states joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII that they called it the Royal Confederate Air Force.

Canadians have won 57 Medals of Honor while serving in US forces. Canada is not as generous in issuing medals, but 6 US citizens have won the Victoria Cross, Canada's highest award for valour.

Some of you will remember Bill Dunn. When Canada went to war in 1939, he rushed to Canada and joined the Black Watch, but soon transferred to the RCAF. Flying Hurricanes and Spitfires he became the first U.S. ace in WWII and, much later, flew 378 combat missions in Vietnam. Retiring in Colorado Springs, Bill rebuilt a WWI RAF SE5 biplane which he flew. He was an active member of our RCAF wing here and we referred to his SE5 as our Air Force. While it was operational, North America was never invaded! Unfortunately, Bill died in 1995 at age 78.
Also, during this time of US neutrality, there were numerous questionable US activities. In both WWI and WWII the first Canadian convoys left Halifax a few days after our declaration of war in 1914 and 1939. U-Boats were a serious threat. We never lost a troopship, but we did lose 1,146 merchant seamen while the UK lost 25,000. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Navy were hard pressed to protect these convoys. The neutral USN would leave Norfolk on peacetime manoeuvres. Belonging to a neutral nation they would have to stay well clear of our convoys. Their navigation was so terrible that they would blunder into our convoys then, for days, could not figure out how to get out, and kept going around in circles. This was most frustrating to U-boat commanders who would get fat merchant ships in their sights only to have a US destroyer cross the viewing scope, preventing torpedo launches for fear of provoking the US into the war. This saved many of our ships and men - so, thank you.

Another problem was aircraft. For the most part, Canada used British aircraft, built either in the UK or Canada, but we did need thousands of such aircraft as Harvards, Dakotas, Hudsons, and Catalinas. US law dictated that combatants could purchase war equipment in the US by paying cash on the barrel head, but, with aircraft, could not fly them out of the US. US manufacturers would fly these purchased aircraft to the flat prairies and park them along the border with brakes off while taking a coffee break. Canadians then lassoed them and pulled them across the border.

During the Korean War, we made use of US bases in Tacoma, Anchorage, and the Aleutians. The squadron I flew with, 426, made 600 round trips from Montreal without a fatality - a far cry from my Bomber Command that suffered 73,741 casualties.

There were low points in Canadian - US relations. The lowest point came while I was serving in the NORAD underground site in Cheyenne mountain.

One month, when the PLAYBOY magazine arrived, one of you stamped it NOFORN - No Foreign Eyes. However, we forgave you - - eventually - - and when KATRINA came along:

The first Search and Rescue team to reach St. Bernard's Parish where 30,000 homes were under water was from Vancouver, Canada. Air Canada used an Airbus to ferry, 166 at a time, refugees (politically incorrect - evacuees preferred) to San Antonio, Texas. It was a first flight for 90% of them. Canadian Forces aircraft ferried 24 Canadian Red Cross officials to stricken areas. One destroyer, two frigates, and 1 Coast Guard ship left Halifax loaded with supplies and 3 helicopters to ferry them to shore. One thousand military personnel were offered to help where needed; a navy diving team from Esquimalt was sent; Alberta increased oil shipments to the US to make up for what was lost. Two Canadian helicopter squadrons donated a helicopter each. And, to top it all off, politicians of all parties organized a BBQ in Ottawa and raised $thousands to give to the US ambassador for hurricane relief.

We have had, and will continue to have, differences of opinion - but these are minor compared to the depths of friendship between our two countries. Let us work together so that our grandchildren will have no need to set aside special days to remember the dead of recent wars.


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