Life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to see the places of war

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - KIM COOPER

Re­mem­brance Day. Men and women dis­play­ing a huge ar­ray of medals. Pa­rades. Tears. Mem­o­ries. We are to be thank­ful and re­mem­ber peo­ple who died years ago in wars most of us have only read about.

So how can we re­mem­ber?

It’s not that we don’t care, but rather we don’t re­ally un­der­stand. Most of us have grown up not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing war. In fact, about 75 per cent of Cana­di­ans were born af­ter the 1950s Korean War.

As a boy, my friends and I were fas­ci­nated with war. We were born soon af­ter the close of the Sec­ond World War, and war sto­ries and movies were ev­ery­where.

I was a for­mer mem­ber of the Chatham Kiltie March­ing Band. I re­call many Re­mem­brance Day ser­vices at the down­town ceno­taph play­ing Abide with Me and watch­ing the tears stream down wrin­kled and worn faces of men and women. I did not fully un­der­stand the huge sig­nif­i­cance Nov. 11 held for so many.

Hear­ing sto­ries of war gave me a glimpse, but see­ing things first­hand has been life chang­ing.

Vimy Ridge was one of the great­est bat­tles in Cana­dian his­tory. I walked through the same First World War trenches our sol­diers did 100 years ago. They were only feet away from the en­emy’s trenches. No won­der so many died. I saw the rolling land­scape around Vimy Ridge due to the thou­sands of bombs that pounded the land dur­ing the bat­tle. I walked through the un­der­ground tun­nel. I saw where our Cana­dian sol­diers slept, ate, fought and died.

In Flan­ders, near the town of Waragem, I vis­ited the largest Com­mon­wealth war ceme­tery. It con­tains thou­sands of white mark­ers, row af­ter row af­ter row. I walked for hours through this ceme­tery not say­ing one word. I read the epi­taphs on the tomb­stones and dis­cov­ered many of these sol­diers were young men, far too young to be ly­ing dead in a field so far from home.

That day was cold, wet and mis­er­able. I can only imag­ine the con­di­tions these sol­diers en­dured. Be­fore I left, I sat and scanned the en­tire ceme­tery. A hum­ble and sober­ing feel­ing over­whelmed me, and all my tear-soaked eyes could see was the blur of white stones mark­ing the spots of so many young and in­no­cent lives.

Dieppe was the site of one of the great losses in Cana­dian war his­tory. I stood and looked out over the beaches of Dieppe and tried to en­vi­sion our sol­diers be­ing cut down by en­emy fire be­fore they ever reached land. This par­tic­u­lar evening was cold, windy and stormy, and I stood out in the rain for quite some time think­ing of how each lost life had im­pacted so many oth­ers. I can still re­mem­ber the wind howl­ing through­out the night, re­mind­ing me of the very real hor­rors of war.

In Ja­pan, the site of the world’s first atomic bomb used in war­fare on a pop­u­lated area was Hiroshima. The U.S. dropped the bomb in or­der to try to end the Sec­ond World War. I watched hun­dreds of Ja­panese men, women and chil­dren walk­ing past the memo­ri­als and re­minders of this dev­as­ta­tion. I saw very real ev­i­dence of war in the scars, miss­ing limbs and body mal­for­ma­tions of hun­dreds of peo­ple. I walked slowly through the mu­seum and viewed pic­tures of the hor­rors that war brings on civil­ians.

I sat at the very spot the bomb ex­ploded over­head, and tried to imag­ine the ut­ter des­o­la­tion and de­struc­tion on that Au­gust day in 1945.

Buchen­wald was one of the largest con­cen­tra­tion camps in Ger­many. This beau­ti­ful coun­try set­ting played host to a hor­rific story of hu­man bru­tal­ity, waste and de­struc­tion. I walked through the camp and mu­seum, try­ing to un­der­stand why tens of thou­sands of hu­man be­ings were killed through work, tor­ture, star­va­tion and med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments.

I saw the cre­ma­to­rium, viewed the guard tow­ers and peered through the elec­tri­fied barbed wire sur­round­ing the camp. I walked around the grounds and saw pris­on­ers bar­racks, meant to hold hun­dreds but in­stead housed thou­sands. I stood in stunned si­lence, over­look­ing this now serene place. The set­ting sun threw shad­ows across the land­scape, and I could al­most hear the des­per­ate and an­guished cries of men, women and chil­dren.

In all of these places, I would sit for hours try­ing to en­vi­sion what hap­pened dur­ing these dark times in our his­tory. How could peo­ple let this hap­pen? How can we do such things to fel­low hu­man be­ings? And yet, wars and atroc­i­ties still hap­pen ev­ery day in far too many coun­tries.

I have learned many things through these first-hand ex­pe­ri­ences. But one thing al­ways comes across – there is noth­ing glam­orous about war. I re­al­ize, in a very small way, what hun­dreds of thou­sands of men and women and fam­i­lies sac­ri­ficed and went through for me. Free­dom meant blood that spilled on fields, oceans and in the air so many years ago and so far away from home. This paid for that free­dom we take for granted to­day in Canada.

This Re­mem­brance Day, I want to of­fer my thanks to the men and women who served. To all the fam­i­lies who lost a loved one, thank you for what you gave up. To those who sac­ri­ficed so much and sent fam­ily mem­bers over to an un­known land, thank you. To those who are still liv­ing with phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars, I am sorry you have car­ried these wounds for so many years. For those haunted by mem­o­ries and still liv­ing with past hor­rors, I am sorry.

My gen­er­a­tion and the gen­er­a­tions fol­low­ing me do not fully un­der­stand what you went through. But we are so thank­ful and grate­ful you did.

Just some real food for thought.

In all of these places, I would sit for hours try­ing to en­vi­sion what hap­pened ...”

Here in Chatham-Kent ‘WE GROW FOR THE WORLD’! Check out our com­mu­nity’s agri­cul­tural web­site at: we­grow­forthe­world.com

Kim Cooper has been in­volved in the agribusi­ness sec­tor for over 45 years. He can be reached at: kim.e.cooper@gmail.com

You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at ‘theAGguy’

SUP­PLIED

Corp. Tim Cooper (mid­dle) is with the Royal Cana­dian Air Force based in Tren­ton. He is the son of Kim and Jim Cooper, and has just re­turned home to Canada af­ter four months with the United Na­tions peace­keep­ing mis­sion trip to Mali, Africa.

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