As part of our national recognition of Remembrance Day each year in Canada on this day, November 11th, we sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”    Over the years, women and men have stood “on guard,” defending borders and peacekeeping far away from Canada.  They’ve been deployed on Operation Presence, Operation Crocodile, Operation Jade, and Operation Soprano, in Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and the Middle East defending borders in a variety of ways around the world in battles, skirmishes, wars.

Some returned home emotionally overwhelmed by what they have experienced.   Some returned home physically disabled, addicted, in physical pain.  Some returned home unable to find employment or housing.  Some did not return home.

Each year on November 11th, we stand still.    We stand still to remember their sacrifice and that of their families.  We stand still for a very short moment in time, on one day of the year, while the families of the fallen stand and live with the pain of it all 365 days a year. 

I was reminded of all of that as our car passed a house and I noticed, clearly visible from the street, the photo of a young man in uniform in a frame in the living room window.

It was just a photo, that’s all.   Just a photo. Or was it? 

What was it about that photo that grabbed at my heart?   What was it about that photo that created a deep chasm in my soul?  What was it about that photo that brought tears to my eyes and gripped my chest so I couldn’t breathe?   “It” couldn’t be named.   I only knew that my soul had been touched.   

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the salute.   The car’s driver saluted the photo quietly, quickly, calling no attention to himself.    For an ever-so-brief moment, the car’s driver was in another world
… a world that connected him to this young man
… a world that united them as siblings of conflict
… a world that reminded him of the fragility of life and the happenstance of circumstance.

In the photo, a young man of eighteen or so.  In the car, a  man old enough to be the young man’s grandfather.  And yet, for that one brief moment, they were brothers.

Salutes happen – some place – every day – on every land – in every continent.   This salute … was different.   

May we salute those who have served, sacrificed, suffered.   May we salute those who served and still suffer in physical pain; in emotional pain; who deal with homelessness, unemployment, addiction, relationship break-up, depression, PTSD.

May our salute to them be translated into compassionate laws and practical ways to help all who have served and are still serving in conflict situations and in peacekeeping situations.

Thank you, all who have served.  Thank you, all who are now serving.  Thank you, to those who are about to serve. 

We remember.  We are grateful.  We will not forget.

© June Maffin

Photos of “Wire Soldiers” ghosts of soldiers silently standing over their graves in the St John’s Churchyard, Slimbridge, U.K.  More can be read about this project:

Photo taken at the Cenotaph in Duncan, British Columbia, Canada

Photo (used with permission) of Canadian Scottish Regiment Association Band, Canadian Armed Forces (Army) Piper, Bill Buckingham. 2023 will be his 35th (!) consecutive time piping the Remembrance Day ceremony for St. Michaels University School, Victoria, British Columbia.