Throngs of people packed Remembrance Day ceremonies in Red Deer on Tuesday, a sign of heightened public awareness of the sacrifices made by the military on behalf of Canadians.
Korean War veteran Andrew Moffat summed it up in his address to the crowd of people who braved a bone-chilling wind to attend services at Veterans Park in the city centre.
“Today we are in a new war — a different sort of war than we have ever been engaged in before. A war not of our choosing, but a war that will define who we are, and will determine both our future and our very survival,” said Moffat.
“Only a couple of weeks ago, the murders of Warrant (Officer Patrice) Vincent in Montreal and Cpl. (Nathan) Cirillo at the Cenotaph in Ottawa have brought this war to the very heart of Canada. It is a threat to everything for which we stand and which we measure, and for which more than 116,000 Canadians in uniform have given their lives.”
Largely unnoticed among the people attending the ceremonies were members of the RCMP, standing guard. A few blocks away, at the rear of the Red Deer Arena, an RCMP member in combat dress stood by with a semi-automatic rifle in his hands as squadrons of soldiers and police officers mustered for the ceremonies inside.
Uniformed RCMP were also posted in various areas and plainclothes members circulated among the crowds. The additional security was posted this year because of the attacks on Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa last month, said the watch commander for the Red Deer RCMP, who asked not to be named.
Inside the tightly-packed arena, people spoke of the value of peace and the need to honour the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians wounded or killed in conflicts dating back more than 100 years, when young men and women from across the British Commonwealth were called to battle in South Africa.
There is a different feel this year because it was the first time in the modern era that Canadian soldiers were attacked on Canadian soil, said parade commander Maj. Jason Snider, commanding officer of the 78 Field Battery reserve unit in Red Deer.
“It’s always nice to see this arena fill up with people who are coming out to remember the sacrifices of soldiers who came before us, at that significance is the same every year,” said Snider.
Bombardier Kevin Machan, a member of the 78 Field Battery for roughly 20 years, said he feels honoured to serve his country and to take part in the service of remembrance. He said this one does felt different because the attacks on Vincent and Cirillo struck close to home.
“Every year, we do reflect on the soldiers we’ve lost in the battery and in the country,” he said.
Veteran Bob Crites, president of the Royal Canadian Regiment Association, also said the events of the last month have made things different.
Later this month, his association will commemorate the death of the man for whom his branch is named. Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Girouard of Bathurst, N.S., was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, 2006.
Crites commended freelance journalist Al Cameron of Sylvan Lake and his group, Veterans Voices of Canada, for organizing a display of 116 Canadian flags alongside Hwy 11, each flag representing 1,000 Canadian killed in combat since 1900.
Seated in the stands, Valerie Leeming spoke about surviving the attacks on London during the Second World War and the need to pass the lessons of history on to future generations.
“It’s overwhelming sometimes. We shouldn’t forget and neither should the kids,” said Leeming.
“I think it is (different this year) because it happened on home soil,” she said.
“People get to the point where they think nothing is going to happen to them, but it does and it will. You have to face it, deal with it and carry on.”
Leeming spoke of bomb sites in London that have been fenced off and left as grim reminders of the Second World War blitz.
“Sometimes, from a personal point of view, I wish a few words could be said for the many civilians who are killed, because it’s just as devastating for their families. You don’t think of it, you just live your day and hope tomorrow is going to be better.”