Yes, as usual, I attended the Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans Day ceremonies. Yes, I again laid the wreath for our 971 Wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association. I often get the job because, at 95, I am the oldest and the only one left with WWII combat experience in our Wing. I had just passed my driver's license renewal but it was cold and snowing so our president, Darrell Levitt, drove me. Darrell is a post-WWII veteran, both of the army and the Air Force. He describes taking off in many aircraft but never landing in them, preferring to find his own way back to earth (he was paratrooper).
Here in Colorado Springs we have a "Pikes Peak Veterans Council" comprised of 35 veterans' associations including our Wing. But, the largest group at each Memorial Day and Remembrance/Veterans Day is usually that of the Canadian Regular Force detachment stationed here at Peterson Air Force Base.
For over 12 years Darrell has been selected as Master of Ceremonies. There is also a 4-piece band provided by the Air Force Academy, a Canadian piper, a combined colour guard, and a firing squad. A truly bi-national affair with, this time, LtGen Alain Parent, RCAF, being the guest speaker.
These ceremonies used to be held in the spacious Memorial Park but due to the uncertainties of weather are now held in the Enlisted Association building with a seating capacity of only 600 for a city of 440,000, so we do not attract a sufficient representation. The average turnout in about 500, mostly by families associated with the Military. After the hour-long ceremony the Canadian Forces invite us out to the base for refreshments.
My thoughts during these ceremonies? The memories of the 125 close friends I lost never leave me but it is still important to devote at least an hour to public remembrance even if the main attendance is by those who experienced the insane and self-imposed horrors of war. The quite-good speakers at these events tend to repeat the same themes: Freedom is never free; We shall never forget them; Our debt is immense; We need to maintain strong defensive forces - and so on. Seldom do I hear words about minimizing the root causes of war; about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that all veterans of combat have; about the fact that more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have committed suicide than the number killed in action; about the bloated militaries maintained by all expansive countries, especially this one; that nuclear arsenals still exist; that greed still has us supporting repulsive regimes. I come away with the depressing inference that we are destroying our own species in the hopeless belief that, in spite of so many brilliant and caring minds worldwide we will remain a species bent on self destruction. Too many of us are too comfortable today to worry about tomorrow or the rest of the world and those not so fortunate.
For me, the most emotional part of the day was to return home to find an email from Joanie Kennedy in Calgary. Last January she was exploring the internet and discovered my "Death by Sevens" article in this blog site (27 April 2009) that describes the fate of her great uncle, Bill Murphy, whose Halifax bomber crew took the fire from two flak ships meant for my crew as we flew between them at mast-top level following mining the shipping lanes off the Dutch coast. They missed us by millimetres but caught Bill's crew just behind us. In was in the dark of night, 09 January 1943, during very foul weather and persistent rain. After a huge orange explosion, the cold and indifferent North Sea claimed Bill's crew, seven of our friends. Bill's extended family of some thirty members never knew this. They had been informed only that he had gone "Missing from operations". Joanie was again thanking me for bringing closure, especially to her grandmother. Joanie and I continue to correspond as well as Neil Hill in Toronto another member of the family.
This blog site and other writings have resulted in connecting me with the families of a fair number of friends denied the good fortune of surviving combat.
This helps with my PTSD: the painful guilt I will always feel of killing innocent civilians they told us was the only way to get at the guilty, to bomb them out of homes in the dead of winter with the survivors having no heat, no water, no sewage, no food, and facing a future devoid of hope. Our species should and can do better than this.