Paying respect to our War Dead
In our busy world with its many demands and distractions including the ever increasing noise from social media in may be hard for many a youth to “Remember” to care, and to pay respect. Remember what you may ask… to remember the many young men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up their lives in WW1 and WW2 along with the battles in Korea, Afghanistan, on Peace keeping missions and sadly recently even here at home.
Dare we begin to consider as to how many of us can start to understand the ultimate sacrifice given so that we here today can live as a free country with the right to elect our own governments and to live in peace?
How many of us also understand the damage done to so many soldiers who survive the great battles only to return home injured in some way either physically or emotionally? Can we begin to understand on a personal level as to the true horrors of war through the battles fought while also witnessing the utter destruction in life, limb and property not only to fellow countrymen but also to innocent civilians?
Last August members of our Federation of North-American Explorers travelled to France to participate in an event known as Eurojam that brought together some 12,500 of their brothers and sisters from 21 different countries. While in France we made the effort to visit Juno beach and the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military War Cemetery in order to help our Explorers begin to better understand and to remember!
Is it not today’s youth who will have the torch of Remembrance passed on to them tomorrow and they to their children in the next generations that follow? If they do not understand what Remembrance Day is all really about who will?
Our visit to Juno Beach was not just another tourist stop, rather for many of our youth it opened their eyes to the reality of war… that D’Day was not just a story that they read about in a history book, rather that this day was the true beginning of the end to one of the most evil forces ever gathered on the planet. WW2 ended just over a year later… it was a good thing as the Nazi’s by the end of the war where not all that far away from producing fleets of fighter jets and even perhaps an atom bomb.
Our youth so often are exposed to violence in video games… that when a character is killed you just press restart and try again. Here at Juno beach they for the first time understood the obstacles faced in the early hours and days of the landing and the onslaught that our brave young men faced as many fell dead or wounded on the beaches and hills facing the beach. There was a hushed silence as we walked the beach and defenses and later when we sat through a mock landing in a water craft carrying fellow Canadian soldiers as bullets flew all around you and motors exploded with a deadly thump and bang destroying anything in its wake. Some of our Explorers where in tears as the reality of war in such a small way started to sink in… their tears flowed without shame.
Next the Explorers travelled to the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military War Cemetery located not far inland surrounded by beautiful French countryside. As we got off the bus we quickly gathered around a massive Canadian Flag painted on concrete to reflect on our citizenship and to sing O’Canada in both English and French. They did so with a great sense of honour and responsibility as here in France the next generation of Canadian’s arrived to pay homage to and remember our War dead. A number of locals gathered around to watch our youth represent Canada in a loving and responsible way.
What struck the Explorers upon entry into this massive cemetery was the beauty, quiet, peace, perfect order and alignment. There was not a single grave stone out of place. There was not a single weed in the grass and the grass was perfectly cut… even better than golf course grass. Each grave was carefully attended to with nothing out of place.
We moved into the cemetery quietly, respectively, in formation with a sense of awe for perhaps even a little bit of forbearance. They listened to their leaders without making a single sound and standing at alert as the gravity of the place and time started to sink in. The Explorers offered up prayers for the many many soldiers buried here and at other cemetery’s scattered throughout the French countryside.
From there Then the Explorers where on their own to walk about the massive Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery to have a personal look. Some walked around in small groups, others on their own. Many sat in front of individual graves to better contemplate what they are seeing and experiencing. Others stated to sob with many tears only to be comforted by their leaders and brother or sister explorers many of which also had tears in their eyes as they better realized that many buried there where not that much older than themselves.
We all left that place and Juno Beach with a whole new perspective as to “Remembrance”. Thiis years Remembrance Day will be like no other that they have ever experienced.
These young Explorers will help carry the torch of Remembrance for the next generations to come. This is an experience that all participants will never forget. Our young Explorers now have a whole new perspective of awe and respect for past and current and future members of our brave Armed Forces! Thank you to all of our Canadian soldiers. We will always remember, respect and appreciate you all.
Article written by Paul Ritchi - FNE General Commissioner as personally witnessed in France Aug 2014.
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