Veteran Voices of Canada founder Al Cameron routinely gets invited to the funerals and celebration of life services of Second World War veterans.
It is both a reminder of the appreciation from families of his efforts to preserve the experiences of their loved ones but also how the numbers of those remaining to recount their wartime experiences grows ever smaller.
“It’s like a kick in the stomach when I hear that one of the veterans, and especially the veterans I’ve interviewed, pass away,” said Cameron, who began Sylvan Lake-based Veterans Voices in 2005.
“In general it makes you understand that these guys and gals are not going to be here for too much longer, unfortunately. We are all going there and with these people who have made our history like they have it’s sad to see that they’re going.
“That’s why it’s so important the Veteran Voices of Canada is here to document those stories.”
Cameron has been collecting veterans’ stories for two decades and most of the more than 2,000 interviews he has videotaped have been men and women who served in the 1939-45 war. The youngest of them are now in their mid-90s.
He regularly attends services of veterans, sometimes on his own initiative but often at the invitation of the veteran’s family.
“These guys did a lot for us and the least we can do is give them a good sendoff when the time comes.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Cameron was at a service for Loucien “Lou” Lamy, who served in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during the Second World War. He parachuted into France on D-Day on June 6, 1944 and went on to fight his way through Germany.
Lamy was 96 when he passed away peacefully on Oct. 17 in Calgary.
About a year and a half ago, he got a call from a granddaughter of a Nova Scotia veteran who told him the family watched his interview with her grandfather at his wake.
“She was just telling me they were all teary-eyed because even though he was gone they had a documentation of his story.”
When he hears stories like that it further reinforces how important the work of Veterans Voices has been.
The focus is not only on Second World war veterans. Veterans Voices is collecting the experiences of those who served their country, including the Korean War, the Cold War, Canada’s numerous peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan, where 40,000 Canadians served from 2001 to 2014.
One of the projects he is currently working on is collecting the stories of 158 Afghanistan veterans to honour the number of Canadians who lost their lives in that conflict.
But veterans of all eras made sacrifices and, even in peacetime, the dangers were real. Nearly 600 Canadian soldiers died on duty during the Cold War from accidents and other causes.
“When they go out on peacekeeping duties or NATO exercises they don’t always come back.”
Telling the stories of all who have served is his way to honour them. Another is the Veterans Voices annual Flags of Remembrance ceremonies.
Each year, Veterans Voices has organized flag ceremonies with 128 flags representing Canada’s 128,000 wartime killed and missing. The first ceremony was held in Sylvan Lake in 2014 and it has now spread to communities across Canada, including Lacombe this year.
This year, Veterans Voices paid tribute to the nearly 160 responders who have fallen victim to the after-effects of 9/11 as well as all of the Canadians who served and sacrificed in Afghanistan.
“It was a day of honouring our peacekeeping heroes, and the so many others including first responders who serve Canada.”
Similar ceremonies were held in Sydney, N.S., Windsor, Ont., Dunnville, Ont. and Philipsburg, Que.
The flags will remain up until Nov. 12.
In 2022, Cameron hopes to see ceremonies held in each province and territory.
On Nov. 11, Cameron encourages all to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies where they can. Afterwards, they can visit the flags that are posted in Sylvan Lake’s Centennial Park and on Highway 12 on the east side of Lacombe.