It isn't real for me, the Great World
War, except for some songs. A memory for others, not even a memory for me.
The Second World War:
"war to end
all wars." It was leftover ration coupons
used for playing store with my brother. It was a vague story of cousin Clinton
tip‑toeing into my room, with Mom and Dad, to peek at me in my crib before he
went "overseas." It was Mom's
first cousin, Ted, sending parachute remnants for her to make into a blouse. It was Aunts Peggy and Teddy, war nurses,
sending dolls made in Europe and storybooks from England. Treats. It's Aunt Teddy's footlocker, and sepia
photographs of young men and women in uniform.
The Korean War is only Alan
Alda's M.A.S.H., the Vietnam War in disguise: humour and gore splashed
lavishly. Not real. What is real are war's bloody fingerprints.
A New Brunswick man drives
his car to the church directly across the highway. Having slogged across Europe
as a foot‑soldier, he refuses to walk anywhere again. Another, former prisoner‑of‑war,
couldn't sit still in church, unless near a window.
Cousin Ted's voice boomed
through practice. A career soldier, rising in rank, he was told to work at
deepening his voice, to grow a moustache, to seem older for "his"
men. In Italy, three days after an
artillery shell had killed companions and messed him up, he was almost missed
by stretcher‑bearers until one last groan reached them. He came back minus
large portions of his legs. The deeper fingerprint was something else.
Almost sixty years later, when
he drank, eyes tear‑filled, he'd remember aloud how at 20‑something, as an
officer, he'd sent about 100 men forward. Only a handful came back. It was his job. It wasn't a tactical
error. One incident of many, yet the
pain continued to eat into his gut, pain alcohol wouldn't burn away.
It continues. I served as the Base Protestant Chapel Life
Coordinator when military padres were too thin on the ground. My husband and I
are marriage counsellors periodically for CFB Petawawa. More fingerprints.
Nightmares: scenes too
terrible to share with a spouse. She,
not understanding why he turns away; can't touch her skin without
weeping...Isn't he glad to be back?
Another soldier: Why, since her return, she can't eat specific foods,
can't bear to smell certain things cooking.
God has created us with
"fight or flight" instincts, but we're not meant for war with its
primary and collateral damage. That "fight" instinct can be used
against poverty, prejudice, social injustice. War is a wound, disrupting, festering,
destroying created life's vibrant fibre.
When past monuments were
planned, naming the living and dead who'd served in three wars, probably there
was concern: people might forget, and a grateful feeling of finality... No more
names! Never again!
All of those military,
whether they've rocked in deep despair, minds torn apart by shock; whether
they've suffered physical pain; whether they died, or not, all took the same
chances when they signed up. They volunteered to go into unknown territory, to
heal when they could, be a caring presence when mending wasn't possible;
trying to put aside "thou shalt not," to kill, so others could
live in peace...
Not easy! Not tin soldiers! Real people, with all their
flaws and fears and pain, their hopes and dreams and nobility.
Today, war's fingers reach
out again, too close. We tremble. Our
family lives eight minutes from CFB Petawawa, twenty minutes from Chalk River,
very near Pembroke airport. Weapons practice has shaken our windows regularly
since we moved here, but shortly after 9-11, when the windows shook, for the
first time, our son raced downstairs to see if we were all right.
Earlier, he wondered aloud, "If
they call men up, will they start with those near the base?" He has no idea of how it works. He doesn't
know that people, like those named on monuments around the world, conquered
their own fears to choose to fight the battles for civilians like him and me.
Because of them, we've enjoyed fearless peace for a long time, long enough for
many to forget, or never know, war. We thank God for their gifts of self.
Many of Canada's military are
deployed. The windows are shuddering once more; soon, another large number will
leave from CFB Petawawa. I pray that
there will not be, once again, flags at half-mast for weeks on end.
Often, I wear the “invisible”
ribbon. It honours those in invisible uniforms: the families, "keeping the
home fires burning," who also pay a price when husbands or wives, fathers
or mothers, are on exercises or deployed.
May the time of the world's
"beating its swords into ploughshares" come very soon! May our Lord prepare us for it, and, grant us
(Earlier versions of this article appeared previously in Glad Tidings magazine and The Petawawa Post. Related photos are available.)