Remembrance Day show of thanks
By Matt Vis
The expressions of pride on the faces of veterans of Canada’s military and armed forces were unmistakable as they marched into the Fort William Gardens for Remembrance Day ceremonies, complete with a standing ovation from thousands of people adorned with poppies.
Event organizers estimate that just over 2,500 people joined cadets and active military personnel to honour veterans and celebrate their many sacrifices at the Gardens in Thunder Bay on Sunday.
Those involved say these ceremonies are just a small way to thank veterans for their contributions.
“With what they did, this is nothing. This is really nothing for what they went through. I’m glad that we can at least give them this,” said event chairman Tom Beda.
Remembrance Day has a simple and reflective meaning for those who have served, said George Kearney, who served in the Navy during the Second World War.
“It is a time to think of the people I served with of course, and some of the boys I grew up with, friends that didn’t quite make it and were lost on active service,” said Kearney, who is president of Royal Canadian Legion Fort William Branch No. 6.
The ceremony began with the traditional entry parade with the assistance of the Thunder Bay Police Pipes and Drums as well as the Thunder Bay Community and City Band. Once all of the participants found their place on the arena floor, the Canadian national anthem was played, followed by the firing of the first and second volleys, with a two-minute silence marking 11 a.m. This led to the reading of the prayer They Shall Grow Not Old and the firing of the third volley.
The laying of the wreaths was led by Silver Cross representative Shirley Boneca, who placed the first wreath on behalf of the Silver Cross Mothers. She lost her son, Cpl. Anthony Boneca of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, in July 2006 in Kandahar, Afghanistan at the age of 21.
Also among those laying wreaths was Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty, Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro, McIntyre ward Coun. Trevor Giertuga and Bruce Hagen, mayor of Superior, Wis.
The guest speaker for the event was Ken MacKay, who recounted his experiences in training and serving active duty in the Navy from when he enlisted in May 1942 until his discharge in 1945.
MacKay served aboard the HMCS St. Thomas beginning in December 1944 when the ship was an escort for convoys between Canada and Europe. After the European conflict was finished, he remained on board and set sail for the Pacific, but that portion of the war concluded prior to their arrival.
The ceremonies concluded with a reading of In Flander’s Fields, the ceremonial passing of the torch and the playing of God Save the Queen. Veterans Bill Bissonnette and Nick Burak, both of Slovak Branch 129, gave the closing salute to exiting marchers.
While Beda said that he was pleased with the service, he added that he is saddened that with every passing year there are fewer veterans from the Second World War who are able to participate.
For those veterans who are able to participate, such as 91-year-old Bissonnette, sharing their experiences is crucial to keeping memories of the war alive. Inspired by the Memory Project, Bissonnette enjoys recalling his experiences flying Lancaster bombers over Europe during the Second World War.
“I have good stories to tell,” said Bissonnette.
“I can tell them what landing a Lancaster with a flat tire on one side, and (being) upside down in a Lancaster (is like).
“Just this past week I was up at Algonquin Avenue School and I talked to them for close to an hour and then they had a great big meeting at the auditorium and they gave me something to read out. I find two days later I hear a rattling in the mailbox (at home) and I went out and looked and there were 29 letters there from all the different kids. They talked about all the different things I told them about.”
Kearney can recount similar stories.
Like MacKay, the 89-year-old served in the Navy with the convoys that would escort ships on trips between Canada and Europe to protect against the deadly threat of German submarines and U-boats. Even now, there is one day that he still remembers above all others.
“One of the moments that sticks in my mind is May 14, 1945,” he said. “We encountered a German submarine on the surface that had surrendered and we passed on information of what port they had to go into. Most people in the Navy, I think, had never seen a submarine. I don’t think we even contacted one while we were on convoys and the submarines were out there until the very last days of the war.”
While most people think of veterans as being those who served in the world wars, Beda is quick to point out that those who are returning from active duty in Afghanistan are also veterans.
“The people have to realize that the folks coming back from Afghanistan are veterans,” he said. “You talk to a lot of people and they think that World War I and World War II, that’s veteran.
“But as far as I’m concerned, it’s anybody that has served.”