By Lindsay Ducharme
Once a year Canadians dedicate a day to remember the sacrifice made by many thousands of soldiers in order to protect our rights and freedoms. Remembrance Day has been held on Nov. 11 since the end of the First World War in 1918. While the date remains the same, local veteran Glenn Miller wonders why the public seems to be forgetting.
“It happens every year, it’s nothing new; why is it becoming more disengaging to the average person?” Miller asks.
Miller, who served with the Canadian military for 25 years, believes that while Canadian soldiers continue to fight wars overseas, the vast majority of Canadians are not connected, or affected by their service.
“I think people would appreciate it more if they had their rights and freedoms taken away and then given back later, after the fact they would appreciate it more. In Canada we take it for granted. Other countries have had civil wars for decades; they don’t have the freedoms and luxuries we do,” he said.
“It’s important for everybody, not just the youth but also adults, to appreciate what they have. In Afghanistan for the last 10 years, Canada has been at war, but it hasn’t impacted the average citizen in their daily life. During World War Two everyone was affected by rationing; you could only have so much flour, sugar and gas; everybody understood the collective sacrifice. With the war fought in Afghanistan, the average Canadian went to Tim Hortons and got their double-double and carried on with their life. “
Miller has made it his mission to help local youth cultivate a personal connection with not only the work of the Canadian military, but also the soldiers who lost their lives. While he believes it is important for all citizens to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Canadian soldiers, he has focused much of his attention on the Lethbridge student population. Each year Miller volunteers with local schools working with preschoolers all the way to high school students.
Currently Miller is working with 80 students from Lethbridge Collegiate Institute and Chinook High School who are in the midst of planning a trip to Europe. He says Canadian military history will be incorporated in as many stops as possible along the way. In an effort to create a more meaningful experience, students are researching the life of a soldier prior to their trip.
“Each student has a copy of the service file so I let them do the homework first and see where they go and for those that are having a hard time, I help them out. There is a lady in town whose brother was one of the soldiers selected; she has an Italian last name now, so the chances of the students finding her are slim.”
“Her father was killed in World War One, so at a very young age her brother had to step into his shoes and be the provider for the family, and then he went off to the war himself and was killed shortly thereafter. As a way of perpetuating that memory, I’ve arranged for her to talk about his story from her perspective and then after the trip, the girl’s going to come back and the students are going to talk about their perspective and about how the trip changed them. It’s a win-win for both generation,” he continued.
Miller believes the research combined with the real-life experience of visiting historical sites provide the youth with a greater understanding of the sacrifices made for their benefit. He says the research in particular, putting a face and story to a name, have a profound effect on the youth involved.
“What is it like for a 19-year-old who got killed? These students visiting are only a few years younger and regardless of what war, it’s always the younger generation that goes off and does the fighting, so they can relate to it,” he said.
“Seeing a cemetery with 3,000 Canadian crosses lined up row on row, once you stand in a cemetery like that, you come back a changed person regardless of what you thought going in.”
Miller also agreed to let a local class interview him about his experiences, knowledge and insight on the Canadian military, both past and present. One such student, Josie Dunn, age 9, explained Miller was contributing a veteran’s perspective to their project of what Remembrance Day means to them.
For Dunn, Remembrance Day is “very sad because of all the solders that died. I think it’s a day to remember all the veterans and soldiers that gave their lives to give us our freedom and our lives.”
Classmate Simon Bain, also age 9, said, “Remembrance Day represents all the people who fought for our country and gave us freedom and peace. It’s sad but it also it makes you happy that they did that for us, because you need to be thankful for the people who fought for you and gave their lives for you.”
Miller hopes that his role in passing on the legacy of Canadian soldiers to a younger generation will help to strengthen the celebration of Remembrance Day in the future. However, he notes that it is a responsibility of every citizen. “I’m in a position where I can give back to the community and educate the community and through my own personal interest, I enjoy military history and southern Alberta has a rich fabric of history which no one really knows unless you are family.”
Combined with a lesser curriculum focus in the schools, Miller believes that parents must also take responsibility of teaching their children about why Remembrance Day is so important.
“The biggest person to educate the youth is their parents; it’s their responsibility as a civic duty. Schools generally have Remembrance Day as a holiday but how many kids participate in some kind of remembrance? What value do you put on remembrance?”
“I doubt most people today realize the amount of work the military does daily. It’s like the police and firefighters, we do our job every day. When you see a fire truck go down the street, you know they are working. Here in Lethbridge you don’t see a navy ship go down the Oldman River, so you don’t know that there is the navy working every day. The military of roughly 70,000 people work every day, but here in Lethbridge you don’t get to see it,” Miller continued.
“They always say if you don’t know the past, you are doomed to repeat it. The freedoms of today came at a cost and it’s important to remember that. My question is, why does the public forget to begin with?”