by Supt. Jennifer Hyland, Officer in Charge of Ridge Meadows RCMP
This Nov. 11, Remembrance Day, I march alongside my RCMP comrades, with other first responders and, most importantly, our veterans.
When I was child, images of the war were “black and white” and from the “olden days.”
Even though war seemed horrible, I was always thankful it happened long before I was born and would never happen again.
But it did happen again.
War continues today.
Photos are no longer black and white… they are in colour and on video, and in the news, and on the internet.
Each year, I look into the eyes of our veterans and I have come to realize that there is a story for each of them.
I would like to share two pivotal experiences with seniors that have had a significant and lasting impression on me.
When I was an inspector in North Vancouver, preparing to march with my RCMP troop in a Remembrance Day ceremony, I was asked if some retired RCMP veterans could join us as, over the years, their group had become smaller. Their initial ask was simply to fall in at the rear of the troop.
Two things came to my mind; one was how awful it would be if we walked too fast for them.
The second was that these men had served and sacrificed for our country and they should not be “at the back.”
So, I asked them to join me right up front and centre. This also meant that one of them would have the honour of “taking the salute” as we passed the bandstand.
The following week, I received a phone call. The call was from the daughter of one of the veterans who marched with us. And, she was in tears.
I was a little worried that perhaps something had happened… did we walk too fast after all? Oh my goodness?!?! What did I do?!?
The daughter went on to explain that her father was overcome with pride.
She was in tears over how important I had treated her father and the other veterans who marched with us.
Frankly, I was embarrassed by the level of importance this seemed to be receiving.
After all, this was a very simple act and quite honestly, was done out of convenience mixed with some mild concern.
It really took nothing at all to do.
That’s when she said to me, “Our seniors and veterans become ‘old and invisible’ to many people around them.”
She was so proud of her father and loved him so much that someone else showing he was important brought her to tears.
I had never considered this. Her words hit me very hard.
Several years later I was asked to attend a Remembrance Day dinner event at the Maple Ridge legion. I was to speak at the dinner and so, that day, I wrote out a speech referencing how many people have died and sacrificed, not only veterans, but all first responders.
Prior to my speech I started chatting with one of the veterans there.
He was in his 90s, and I later learned from his family – who were also in attendance – that he had only recently shared some of his war experience with them. I initially expected him to tell me about the stress and gore of battle. But he didn’t do that.
He told me about what happened on the eve of going to battle while he was still in Canada.
You see, he had become close with his comrades. They all went through training together and they were all going off to war together. But on that eve, while on a train being transferred, there was a rail collision with another train. These were steam engines.
That accident resulted in the horrific steam death of many of his friends while still in Canada.
They didn’t even make it to the battlefield.
I can only imagine the pain and suffering he saw that night. His eyes showed the pain all these years later. He bore that alone for many years.
When it came time for my speech, I could not simply reference the information and data of what I had prepared.
Instead, I made eye contact with the veteran and then related to the audience how personally impacted I was by his story. That, standing there I was thankful to him personally.
That if men and women like him had not gone off to war, women like me may not ever have the chance to be the chief of police.
To drive vehicles.
To go to school and have an education.
I thanked him for providing a country that believes and still upholds democratic rights of freedom. That people like him have laid down their lives for me to have that right. And that those like him have paid with part of their soul.
Our seniors have gone to war, built our roads and hospitals, educated us, supported us, and provided us with a life of freedoms.
I hope we do more than just remember them.
I hope we thank them, support them, and learn from them.
To all our seniors, veterans, and retired first responders I want to say this to all of you…
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your sacrifice.