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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Some rambling thoughts on Remembrance Day...

My father, Gordon Ockenden - at 20 years old

Archive photo of the first Allied landing strip behind the beach after D-Day - in the Spitfire sits my dad...
(click to see larger)

In Canada, November 11th is Remembrance Day and it is a big deal. I go each year to the cenothaph in Nelson and with 1,000 or more others souls I remember the war dead, sing together, listen to short speeches (often bad) and stand with the men and women vets. In my years in Nelson, the WWI vets have all died and the WWII men and women are pretty old now - in their 80s. Today, there were words for our troops in Afghanistan as well (and the 42 dead so far).

This is not a political day for me - not a day to debate current or past conflicts or to argue about how we can reach peace in this generation. While I know most war casualties in the past 100 years were civilian (and care deeply about that) - today is the day I stand with the soldiers. It's also a day when I think of boys the age of my son Ryan (mostly boys, in the past at least).

When my father was a Spitfire pilot over Normandy with RCAF 443 Squadron in World War II, he was one of 24 Canadian pilots in the Squadron. Several were boyhood friends. The day he shot down his first German plane, he was onl 20. On D-Day itself, only one of the 24 men he flew with was 21 years old. About one year later, twelve of them were dead. That shaped my father in ways that are profound and awful. (Web link on my dad)

Ryan (my son) is saving his money to travel to Thailand and New Zealand this winter - to explore, enjoy and learn about life. What a contrast.

Both of my grandfathers, Robert and Fred, were in the trenches in World War I. Robert was shot twice by snipers and Fred was gassed and spent a year recovering. They were little older than boys at the time.

Every dead soldier was somebody's little boy or girl. Many were someone's husband or wife and many were somone's dad or mom. Every life lost in battle is a wasted life.

In the 21st century, if we succeed at only one thing, let it be learning to resolve our conflicts without war.

Wow Gary, your words are absolutely profound. And I'm talking about the very last statement you make. Remembrance Day has such history and meaning to you. It is definitely quite a contrast - to see what people accomplished at a younger age in the past. Here's to remembering men like your grandfathers and your father.

P.S: you look like your dad.
Thanks Vee - you met a 54 year old me so I'm flattered if you see me in a 20 year old dad! I like your new address picture.
A wonderful post and memory to honour your father, his comrades and the fallen.

Our history generates a desire to show respect and gratitude for the sacrifices of others, which shaped our own uniqueness and encourages us to make the most of our tomorrows. It reminds me also of my father, a pilot in WW2 and grandfather who fought in both the Boer War and World War 2.

I never grow tired of Laurence Binyons words.

"Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

Best wishes and for the future: a poem I composed

The era of the terrorist gave fear a new way
Ruled out all compassion for military sway
Speak of the devil beware Christian cloak
Time for renewal, cast off bitter yoke

Arise now new leaders with hearts restored
Justice to homeland and for all those abroad
God of non violence, your message to heed
Honour the fallen, troop’s home god -speed
Lindsay, you've moved me. Thanks for your words and especially your verse.
AWESOME!!! My dream as a kid was to be WWII fighter pilot.

The Spitfire is the coolest.

I couldn't agree more: "In the 21st century, if we succeed at only one thing, let it be learning to resolve our conflicts without war."
... and I was going to say that I see plenty of your handsome dad in your son's face, which obviously came from you.
an interesting post, Gary. I have to say I'm intrigued that your father signed up again after the war despite his experiences - fighter pilot must have been one of the most dreadful jobs to be expected to perform.
a simply eloquent and moving tribute to peace and support of the soldiers.
Your post carries the exact right attitude and one I share with you.
Thanks Tina!

Ian, I think some of these men found it difficult to be comfortable outside the military after their experiences. Of course, my dad loved to fly too.

Maria - your latest post on Iraq is very good.

Thanks PoP
Bohemian - nice to see you back! Always inateresting...
What a wonderful page about your dad! An amazing tribute.
thanks for sharing this awesome blend of personal and world history
I almost let the day slip by without even thinking about what today means. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the blog. It feels good to think about the humans involved in the wars we read about.

My grandather, Paul Piche flew with your Dad in 443 Squadron during WWII. They were so young.
Tara - I recognize your dad's name. Yes, they were boys really... Thanks.


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