“If you sleep through the two minutes of silence at 11am – because I used to, I won’t lie – at least take a minute to pause your video game sometime during the day and give thanks that you’re able to sit on your couch, playing a video game.”
These were my final words to all my classes on Thursday, the last day of school before Remembrance Day. And I meant them. Even the part about how I used to sleep through the crucial 11th hour.
But though I used to sleep-in, I never forgot. I had a real, live veteran to call when I dragged myself from bed, a veteran to whom I quite literally would not have been here without: my grandpa.
But my students don’t have these personal connections. They know about Remembrance Day, and they can recite why we have it, and will sit [as] politely [as they can] through Remembrance Day assemblies at school, but they don’t really get it.
They haven’t heard first hand accounts of anything to do with war, at least not from people that they care about. They haven’t heard stories of singing and dancing to keep toes from freezing while on guard duty in Alaska. They haven’t swooned with tale about grandparents meeting when a young soldier stopped by his regiment buddy’s house while on leave and saw a young woman (who would become my grandmother). They haven’t waited on e-mails from friends, hoping that they weren’t in the vicinity of that IED explosion you heard about on the news.
Yes, emails. IEDs.
There is a whole generation of veterans and homefront who are often – horrifically – left out of the school Remembrance Day ceremonies. I don’t think it’s an intentional snub, but it’s an oversight that I desperately want to see remedied.
The typical school assembly will start with a colour guard, usually with one or two veterans from the local Legion who have been good enough to come out, some students reading poems or singing, and a video compilation pulled off of YouTube. They’re not bad ceremonies. They do the job. One year I’ll even remember to bring tissue. But they have room for improvement.
I would love to see a young soldier at an assembly, marching with his/her brothers from WWII or Korea, reminding the students that the young folks driving cars with the “veteran” license plates haven’t borrowed the vehicles from Gramps. I would love to hear The Trews “Highway of Heroes” played in addition to the WWII songs of longing from the homefront. I would love for the students to leave the assembly with questions, feeling like – for the first time since elementary school – they don’t know everything about Remembrance Day. I’ll get involved with the planning next year.
But for now, this year, I’ll remember.
I’ll remember my Gramps, whose medals and discharge papers I guard in my own home, but I’ll also remember my friends. I’ll remember working at McDonald’s with a teenager who later worked in the sands of Afghanistan. I’ll remember the guy that I went to France with as a teen, and thank him for adding the Middle East to his resumé of world travels. And I’ll remember my friend who showed us one New Year’s Eve that he had been trained to sleep while sitting up, and I’ll thank him for being accustomed to discomfort, so that we could be comfortable.
To all veterans of Canadian military involvement – active war or peacekeeping – thank you. We remember. Regardless of age, we have not forgotten, and we will not forget.