Given the recent events in Ottawa, where an Islamic jihadist shot unarmed reservist, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in the back at the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier, and that Nov. 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada and others in the Commonwealth, I thought it fitting that I re-post my thoughts with some revisions from a year ago. It’s the day we honor our veterans and those we’ve lost.
We in Canada were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Cirillo’s untimely death and to also discover that we had been harboring someone (unnamed here deliberately) who did not value what we value as Canadians. A terrorist who had no right to live in our beautiful land. He had lost that right when he adopted his jihadist thinking.
We, in Canada and the USA, pride ourselves in sharing the belief that we can all live together in harmony, regardless of cultural and religious differences. And to a great degree, we have succeeded. We have also as nations fought and died for the right of others to live in this way. That’s what we commemorate on Remembrance Day.
In the fall of 2013, my husband and I visited the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., an almost two mile long public space incorporating a reflecting pool and major war monuments. To stand there and look down that mall—the Capital at one end, the Lincoln monument at the other—is an unbelievable experience. The magnificence of the design in that open space underlines the strength and beauty of America.
The war monuments are of such grandeur that you can’t walk by them without thinking of the human tragedy of war. Lives lost and spirits crushed. Dreams dashed. Families broken. It’s stunning to read how many tens of thousands have died for their country.
Unfortunately, it’s a universal story. Every country has lost sons and daughters to war.
We first stopped at the relatively new World War II Memorial. What’s striking about it are the bronze reliefs on it, depicting scenes from that time.
I had three uncles in that war. They were from a small town in Manitoba; they came from a poor family. War was adventure, a steady pay check, and a call of duty. One was in the air force, two in the army. They all came home, but were forever scarred by what they’d seen.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates another one where Canadians, Americans, and their allies fought side by side.
Another war that grabbed its young, and those who made it back were older before their time.
The last one we visited was the Vietnam War Memorial. A massive dark stone wall with the names of Americans who didn’t return.
The Vietnam memorial touched my husband and I the most. Partly because it was the freshest war, the one in our lifetime with no easy answers. And partly, because there are still plenty of survivors and family members who visit and pay their respects.
There, I witnessed a father looking for his son’s name on the stone.
I saw a former soldier cry when a volunteer made a rubbing of his friend’s name, or maybe it was his brother’s, and a man shake with sorrow as he ran his fingers over the engraved letters.
I didn’t lose anyone in this war, but just seeing all the dead listed and the tears around me, I couldn’t help but feel some of the pain of those who did.
At the end of the day, I was left with this thought, etched on a stone near the Korean Veterans Memorial. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.