Remembrance Day has a personal and significant meaning for me on a number of levels.
I’m the son of Dutch immigrants who lived through the German occupation of Holland during WWII. A country that was liberated by Canadian-led forces during the five-week long battle of the Scheldt in October through November 1944, at a cost of 6367 Canadian casualties (killed, wounded or missing). Their sacrifices allowed my father’s family the freedom to start a new life in Canada in 1954 – as well as my mother who immigrated to Canada three years later.
Who I am, where I live and the freedoms I enjoy today are a direct result of their sacrifices.
But for me that is not the only connection nor is it the main source of my thoughts on Remembrance Day. I was a soldier with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for four years in the 1980s and to this day it remains the fondest, most adventurous four-year stretch of my life.
The military gave me numerous life experiences in a short period of time that I would not have achieved otherwise. Basic training showed me that your body can be pushed farther than your brain thinks it can. It also showed me that greater success can be achieved through teamwork rather than individual effort.
I gained a true sense of camaraderie, a feeling of belonging that I had never known before or since. Stationed in Germany for two years, it allowed me to experience numerous different countries and cultures. That included my parents’ homeland, for not only did I get a chance to meet aunts, uncles and cousins but I also participated in the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen (marching 160 km in four days while wearing standard combat clothing and carrying a military backpack weighing at least 10 kg).
Canadian troops participating in the marches are treated like celebrities. We marched to the applause of bystanders and children asking for souvenirs and autographs. The appreciation the Dutch have for the Canadian troops who liberated them has been passed down through the generations to this day and it truly was an amazing experience that brought me full circle to my ancestry.
I’ve been to Belgium and walked through preserved World War I trenches with a knowledge of how miserable, wet, cold, depressing and dangerous the conditions were for the men there. I’ve been to some of the beautifully kept military cemeteries in Europe and have read and touched the Gravestones of the Canadian soldiers who paid the ultimate price for freedom and I feel a kinship to them, a true sense of pride.
My military career ended in Germany because of a spinal cord injury which rendered me a quadriplegic. Had the military not been my career I would not enjoy the quality of life, nor the level of independence, I do today.
Veterans Affairs provides far more for me with respect to income, medical coverage and equipment coverage than I ever would have achieved otherwise.
When Remembrance Day comes around – and many times throughout the year – my thoughts go back to those times and experiences. I also think of current events and the soldiers participating in them today (some of whom I’ve known and soldiered with 20 odd years ago).
I feel their hardship, their time away from their friends and families, the horrors of war that they might be subjected to and I mourn their losses.
But I also feel a bit envious of their positive experiences, their adrenaline-rushing experiences, their scared-to-death experiences and their experience of being with a tight-knit, well-trained group of people who have each other’s back.
By Mike Wind
Special to the Mirror