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Remembering our Veterans

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I had the opportunity to work closely with the Swan River Legion in the last couple months as Cliff Gussie diligently put together biographies of all of the Valley men and women who served our country and were buried in the Legion’s plot in the Birchwood Cemetery.
He did this as part of the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation program which will see Grade 5 and 6 students from Swan River and Minitonas take part in a graveside ceremony tomorrow (Nov. 8), leaving flags and poppies at each Veteran’s final resting place. He thought it would be more meaningful for the students if they knew a little about the life of the Veteran whose grave they were assigned to.
When Gussie first approached me he was simply looking for a story to put out a call for information on these Veterans. But, we had resources here at the Star and Times that could be even more helpful. We could search our electronic archives for the names of these Veterans with the hopes of coming out with an obituary or, if we were lucky, maybe even a story.
So, armed with a list of nearly 200 names, dedicated Legion volunteer Leone Sigurdson and I spent many, many hours scouring the pages of our newspaper with great success, finding almost all of the names on our list.
What’s sad about this story is that I’m sure there are some that will question why I spent so much of my personal time (somewhere around 25-30 hours) doing this just so that a few school children would have a bit of information. And, to be honest, this might have been my mindset a decade or so ago. I didn’t have parents, grandparents or, to my knowledge, great-grandparents who served. And, although I had respect, I had never had a reason to be impacted more than what I learned in school and heard at the Remembrance Day ceremony I attended annually with my family.
But, then two things happened. The first was that I married my husband and his family became mine. His paternal grandfather had fought in World War II and was taken as a Prisoner of War. I never had a chance to meet him, as he passed away long before my husband came into my life, but his family is still in possession of many of the items he returned from war with. Simply examining these items and reading passages from his journals has given me so much more compassion for Veterans as a whole.
The other shift happened when I started this job. I’ve talked about it in detail before but I have had the opportunity to actually interview a number of Veterans and have them tell me, directly, their story. There’s nothing quite like experiencing stories like these from the people who lived it as they sit across the table from you. If you have ever had the privilege then you understand how much more real it all becomes.
It’s connections to Veterans, like I have been lucky enough to experience, that Gussie is trying to bring to our Valley’s youth. And, it’s for this reason that I was more than willing to lend a hand, like many others do.
Today’s message wasn’t about getting recognition for something that I did and it wasn’t written to say that a grand gesture is needed to prove your dedication to the remembrance of those who have fought for our rights. My hope is that my story stands as an example of the importance of making a connection to our past.
Every Veteran of every war deserves to be honoured and remembered equally and their memories should not fade with each new generation simply because there is no longer a tie.
DGB