Blood red poppies everywhere.
Lest we forget.
I hurry to yet another Remembrance Day assignment, my own blood red poppy hastily pinned to my black winter jacket.
I take my place in yet another service, notebook and camera in hand.
This time of year is especially poignant for me, partly because, as a reporter, I have had the privilege of listening to the stories that come slowly, haltingly from the memories of the veterans. In so doing, in listening, writing, observing and watching, I feel so close to them. In fact, I feel like I have walked right alongside them into no man’s land.
I have seen, through eyes dimmed with years and failing eyesight, the trenches, and the grey and barren landscapes. I have watched the flash of gunfire, so bright, it hurts my eyes.
And I have watched, horrified, as a buddy, the one who kisses the picture of his girlfriend goodnight every night, wins all the poker hands easily, and likes his rye whisky neat, is suddenly covered in blood and dying on a foreign battlefield.
And I have cried.
I have heard the boom of the cannons splitting the stillness, the screams of my comrades dying on the battlefield. And I have heard the roar of a hundred enemy planes overhead, and, came to understand first hand why there are no atheists in foxholes.
I have felt fear crawling up my spine and reaching out to paralyze my whole body.
Still I moved. Still I somehow managed to grab another buddy, the one who was bleeding profusely from a leg wound, throw him over my shoulder and haul him to safety.
I have listened to these men, striving to bring to life their stories, and tried to understand and ask no more questions when their eyes told me, ‘No, don’t go there.’
Three of my own brothers served in the armed forces.
One never came back. I never met him. He was killed before I was born.
I feel, however, that I knew him. I read his diary, slipping between the lines in my mind, trying o get past the facts, to the person he really was.
I know he grew up in Sylvan Lake and that he was very handsome with brown eyes and blonde hair and a rakish smile and he liked girls a lot.
I know that he was so proud when he got his pilot wings and that he wanted to fly forever.
I know that he was 22 years old when he was killed and I know that he wanted one thing when he was in that war.
He wanted to come home.
But, he didn’t. And, one day in early March when the crocuses were just beginning to break through the snow, my father received a telegram. It was the kind of telegram that makes your heart stop beating even before you open it.
“We regret to inform you your son…” Many years later I try to read the telegram, but it’s all blurry, no doubt made so by the years and blotted by a thousand tears.
I resolutely pin my poppy on more securely.
Stand at attention. And click a picture.
Lest we forget. I never will!