Faithfully Yours - Remembering the “Walters”


Neil Strohschein
The Neepawa Banner & Press

Before his death a few years ago, Walter (not his real name) had a simple ritual that he followed every Remembrance Day. At 10:55 a.m. he would put on his military dress uniform and stand in his driveway, facing his garage. Before him were three flags—the Canadian flag, the Union Jack and the flag of the Royal Air Force, the branch of the military in which he served during WWII.

At precisely 11:00 a.m., he would snap to attention, salute and remain motionless for one minute (this was before two minutes of silence were introduced). Then, his task completed, he would go back inside. The flags would be taken down a few days later.

In all the time I knew him, Walter never attended a Remembrance Day service. “Remembrance Day, for me, isn’t something I commemorate in public. I’m not remembering the hundreds who died in war,” he told a reporter from the city in which he lived. “For me, it’s personal. I’m remembering one person—my brother—whose plane was shot down while returning from a bombing mission over Germany. I put up the flags, I salute them and I stand in silence to honour him. Although his death happened many years ago, it still feels like yesterday and this is how I choose to keep his memory alive.” Walter’s experience is not unique. The pain I saw on his face is something we see every year on Remembrance Day.

We see it on the face of a 90-year-old veteran who sits through the two minutes of silence because he can no longer stand; with tears running down his face as he remembers watching good friends fall beside him and die. Today, he wonders who’s the lucky one—his buddies who died in battle or those who, like him, survived but are still haunted by the memories of the things they witnessed while fighting in a war that they didn’t start, but that they helped to end.

We see it on the face of the Silver Cross Mother who places a simple white cross at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Today she represents all mothers across Canada whose sons and daughters were killed in action. But the tears she sheds are for herself as she honours one of her children who went to war, but did not return. We see it on the faces of proud parents who stand next to a son or daughter who is wearing the uniform of a military cadet. Their child proudly honours those whose lives were lost in battle. But the parents secretly wonder if, at some future time, they might be the ones who must bury a child who was killed in military action.

In my lifetime I have met many “Walters” who lost partners, children or good friends in battle. I have listened to their stories and seen the pain on their faces. They carry wounds that time has not healed. The scenes of what they experienced in war still haunt them. The memories will not go away. The love they had for their comrades in arms will never diminish. They will not be at peace until the day they die.

So this coming Saturday, as I stand in silence with my Kelwood Legion comrades, I will think of the many “Walters” I have met. They went to war, returned and helped to build the communities in which we live. Now, they too have passed away. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.