Remembrance day as a veteran
BY VICTORIA WALSH
“…but we’re not going to save the world, we’ll be lucky just to make it back. You realize this right?” I said, looking up at my co-worker.
“Ya,” he said, “but if we die it’ll be serving our country and that’s honourable.”
I thought that he was being idealistic, maybe even a little foolish. It’s 2009 and we were pre-training for Afghanistan. This was going to be my fourth deployment and I had no illusions about the area we were going into. In fact, I had a huge haunting gut feeling that this was not going to be an easy tour.
At that moment, I simply smiled at him and we continued our walk to work in silence. A month later we flew out to Afghanistan together. A few months after that our group suffered the biggest loss of the deployment after an IED explosion hit one of our convoys.
That co-worker was among those that did not survive.
One Veteran’s View
It is hard to describe how I feel about Remembrance Day. Part of me feels like it’s my own special little sombre place for all the feels to be stored. All the vulnerable, horrible, and sad feels. It is of course not mine at all, but a day for us all, as a nation.
Another part of me thinks it’s a beautiful moment of the year to remember that if we’re the ones lucky enough to be alive, then it’s our duty to those that did not survive to live our lives well. Like, really, wholeheartedly live well.
This is, of course, my own take on Remembrance Day. It is admittedly a little more optimistic and different than some. But if I’m the lucky one that came home, then dammit I’m going to live life as much as I can. I’ll do my best to embrace every moment. Who am I to waste life when we have friends who would have loved to live just one more day?
The Aftermath: PTSD
Others struggle with living well and that is also extremely understandable. As writer Jose Narosky once said, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
158 Canadian soldiers died during the campaign in Afghanistan. That number is unfortunately significantly higher when you consider the rate of suicide amongst Afghanistan veterans since the end of the campaign. And as of March 2018, a staggering 15, 232 veterans with a PTSD diagnosis were registered with Veterans Affairs.
PTSD is prevalent amongst my veteran friends and it is a beast that comes in all forms. It is hard to explain what being deployed to a country in a state of war is like, let alone the traumas experienced. And let’s be real, I worked in communications and was spared from going ‘outside the wire’. Although I’ve shared my own account of my first mass casualty experience and trauma, it’s not the same. What friends have gone through are horrors that challenge the limits of human imagination.
Thankfully, little by little, we’re becoming better as a nation in recognizing and supporting veterans who are challenged with PTSD. It is a very real and scary state to experience.
As my step-mother once said, “there’s a reason behind every behaviour”. If a veteran is silent, snappy, emotional, or <insert whatever positive and negative coping skills here> then kindly remember that there is a reason behind that behaviour. Understand that PTSD is a normal human response to a traumatic event. If you have friends with PTSD or would like to know more about it, please read through the Veterans Affairs Canada resource on PTSD.
Afghanistan was rough, can you imagine WWII?!?
Less than 60,000 veterans remain from World War II, most now in their mid-nineties. Originally, over one million Canadians served during the war (1939-1945), with 45,000 dead and 55,000 wounded.1
Let’s put that in perspective for a quick second. There are only 68,000 Regular Force members plus 27,000 Reserve Force members in our whole military currently.2 That means there were more deaths and wounded during WWII than all of our soldiers serving today. Mind. Blown.
Have you ever sat down to listen to a WWII veterans story? If they are able to tell it, I implore you to listen wholeheartedly, offering them your time and genuine interest. Alternatively, you can try exploring The Memory Project online for personal accounts from WWII veterans. Their stories are a legacy to Canadians filled with humbling, heroic, and awe-inspiring experiences.
If you’re wondering what you can do to support veterans this Remembrance Day, here are a few ideas:
Show support by attending a local ceremony.
Listen to veterans if they share their experiences.
Thank them, although it may make them uncomfortable it is appreciated.
Show solidarity by wearing a poppy.
Be conscious that some still struggle.
Talk to your children about war and veterans.
Talk to your children about kindness and unity.
You can also share your Remembrance Day moments on social media. Show your poppy proudly and tell us how you’re choosing to honour the day. It can be as simple as taking a moment of silence.
You can also add one of the hashtags below:
“There is no career more challenging or rewarding than serving in the Forces. […] You will visit more places than most people see in a lifetime and make great friends along the way. There really is no other career quite like it.”
~ Canadian Forces
That last statement is especially true. There honestly is no other career quite like it. I feel fortunate and proud because through the good and rough times it was always the path I felt right in following. Our big beautiful nation makes it worth all those experiences. #TrueNorthStrongandFree
This Remembrance Day, take a moment to better understand our veterans and their experiences. In honour of them, strive to live a kind, genuine, and full life.
Victoria Walsh is the voice behind Girl Gone Good, a little blog that grew out of the desire to embrace better health and explore the world in earnest. As a military veteran, she loved the adventurous life full of challenges, travel, and skydiving. Trading her combats boots for hikers, a love for mountains, wellness, and a small smoothie obsession emerged. She is currently earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Ottawa.
1- Veterans Affairs Canada. (2017, November 29). Second World War (1939 – 1945). Retrieved from http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/second-world-war
2- National Defence. (2018, September 24). The Mandate of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Retrieved from http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/about-us.page