A mes­sage from a veteran

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - Editorial -

The fol­low­ing ex­cerpt is from Chap­ter 18 from my book, “A Sol­dier’s Mask” (2008 Robin Brent­nall/Traf­ford pub­li­ca­tions).

Sol­diers, like chil­dren, must one day leave the com­fort of their se­cu­rity and head out into the wild blue yon­der with­out their fam­ily. My time in the mil­i­tary is draw­ing to an end and I can see a road of un­cer­tainty ahead. My use­ful­ness to my coun­try and my fam­ily is now lim­ited to tasks and mis­sions that I can un­der­take with­out caus­ing pain or loss of en­ergy due to my in­juries.

My Sol­dier’s Mask has be­come tat­tered and worn, now re­sem­bling the tex­ture of an old worn out leather jacket. There was a time when the mask was new, clean, hard, smooth, un­blem­ished, un­de­terred by weather, war, or want. It was once a mask that showed no scars, no tears, and no wor­ries, just raw de­ter­mi­na­tion and con­vic­tion.

But now it doesn›t fit so well, it doesn›t hide the fear, emo­tions, and hate that it once could. It can›t hide the strain, pain, and suf­fer­ing that this old sol­dier now feels. There are holes in places that once showed a small hint of red­ness from blush­ing when a com­pli­ment was re­ceived stat­ing how hand­some the young sol­dier was; wrin­kles are now writ­ing a script in the cor­ners of the eyes that once could kill with a glance, smile at chil­dren, cry with sad­ness, and burn holes with anger. There are now bags un­der­lin­ing the win­dows to the soul of the sol­dier, paint­ing dark hues as if un­der­scor­ing ev­ery painful event that had been wit­nessed by eyes that had shone through it›s open­ings dur­ing times of great de­spair.

It is now time to take off my Sol­dier’s Mask. It has served its pur­pose, car­ry­ing me through my wel­come to Corn­wal­lis and through to my re­tire­ment from the or­ga­ni­za­tion that I loved, hated, de­spised, and vowed to give my life for, the Canadian Forces.

I now pre­pare my­self to put on a mask that I had been ex­posed to when I was a child, the mask of a man who had given ev­ery­thing he had to his fam­ily, his com­mu­nity, and his coun­try: My Fa­ther.

The veteran’s mask is one that I never thought I would wear. I could never imag­ine be­ing one of our vet­er­ans that we see on a Re­mem­brance Day Pa­rade; old, frail, time con­sumed with the years that they had given to their coun­try. Old men and women who gave the best years of their lives to us, only to be for­got­ten by our com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ment, and coun­try, ex­cept for one day of the year when they don uni­forms of blue and white and grey, smartly parad­ing be­fore an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence of spec­ta­tors and chil­dren, most of the on­look­ers not even know­ing why these an­cient mem­o­ries of ser­vice are march­ing in the snow and cold.

I some­times won­der why my­self. Yet they pa­rade in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, caus­ing tears to fall from their eyes with the st­ing of a win­ter wind. Or are those tears real as they think about past com­rades and the lives they lost?

But as ev­ery sol­dier knows: once a sol­dier, al­ways a sol­dier. It was that at­ti­tude and de­ter­mi­na­tion that got them in the pa­rade in the first place. What most spec­ta­tors don›t seem to no­tice is that small pack­age hid­den in the pocket of the veteran›s jacket, the many folds that it now con­tains; the many pa­rades that had wit­nessed its ap­pear­ance when it was new, shiny, proud, needed, wanted, loved, revered. Now it is soft, sag­ging, and worn, barely hold­ing enough strength to make a timid rab­bit shake with fear when it is placed on the face of this war­rior of past con­flict. How­ever, it still re­flects the owner›s ded­i­ca­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to carry out the du­ties of their fallen com­rades, those who gave the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice to their coun­try. Those fallen sol­diers will never leave a mask that will be­come worn out. They gave their lives for us. If you ever see a pic­ture of a sol­dier who had died in the war, you can see in their eyes that they knew their mask would never change. God bless them all.

I now fully un­der­stand the phrase that I›ve heard on ev­ery Re­mem­brance Day Pa­rade:

“They grow not old, as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years con­demn. At the go­ing down of the sun, and in the morn­ing, we will re­mem­ber them.”

Robin Brent­nall, CD

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