By Sgt. David Calconi CD
Special to the News
Growing up in Stoney Creek, I remember many things from my childhood. Old buildings that are now gone, open fields that used to be a short cut to get home are now filled with subdivisions; faces from the community are different.
Having moved from the city four years ago, I find myself thinking of my youth and those places when I get a bit homesick.
But what is it that keeps those memories alive? When I asked friends and colleagues what remembering means to them, everyone has the same thought; as long as we keep those memories going, something will never be forgotten. As we draw closer to our national day of remembrance, the importance of not forgetting is even more prominent.
I attended St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School. My earliest memory of celebrating Remembrance Day was formed there. The image is still vivid in my head – being walked down the hall from Mrs. Maxwell’s Grade 1 class to the library where we sat at the feet of the school librarian as she explained Remembrance Day.
She had a white cross with a poppy tacked to it, a wool tunic of a First World War soldier draped on the cross with a steel helmet set on top. We would then attend a school celebration in the main gym and observe the moment of silence. At that time, it was a single day in which we remembered those that fought in wars.
It wasn’t until I was a teen that I met my first Second World War veteran. He told me stories about the war as seen through his eyes. After his narrative, he said something to me that I will never forget: “we remember the lads who didn’t make it home, that are still over there.” That single statement is what I remember during the two minutes of silence.
I joined the Canadian Forces 13 years ago; as an infantry soldier serving in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, I have had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary men and women who fought in both world wars and Korea. I have had the pleasure of serving under many of those men and women who have deployed on peacekeeping operations and whose stories and examples of leadership have moulded me during my career.
Gone are the days that Nov. 11 is the one day in which I simply remember our veterans and what the world went through in years past.
For me, Nov. 11 is the day on which I put on my dress uniform, pull my medals out and pin them on my tunic. I polish my boots and march in the Hamilton parade. It is the day in which I look to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms and say, “Thank you for serving.” Hearing an old veteran recite In Flanders Field and watching those old boys try their hardest to form a salute are the things I treasure and look forward to being a part of every year.
Remembrance Day has also taken on a more personal meaning for me. Now, I reflect upon my time in Afghanistan and I think about a friend who died there in December 2008 – one month before my deployment – Corporal Thomas Hamilton from Nova Scotia. As a soldier, you always think about your friends who have passed but are expected to remember your buddies’ friends who you didn’t know and those warriors who came before you.
This marks the 150th year of the RHLI. Recently, we conducted our Trooping the Colour, a historic and meaningful event for all involved. At the end of the day, I was introduced to a highly-decorated Second World War veteran, Sgt. Al Wilson. Sgt. Wilson was a member of the famed Devil’s Brigade and fought in North Africa, Italy and France.
After a talk with Sgt. Wilson and being blown away by his stories and modesty, we posed for a picture. Before leaving I thanked him for his service and he thanked me for mine. He then said something to me that made me humbled to be in his presence, “I was just doing my job, no hero stuff”.
This year, I am glad that I can honour Sgt. Wilson’s service to our country during my Remembrance Day activities.
Lest we forget.