Remembrance Day a chance to learn and share for veterans

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Written by City Media

Hanna LegionIn Hanna, Alberta there are a group of veterans and Legion members who recall Remembrance Day in a multifaceted way: as an event that recognizes the many individuals that assisted during wartime efforts – both in combat and at home – as well as the merit of remembrance for future generations.
“Remembrance Day is very important; I didn’t realize until we started going to the schools and talking to the young students” says World War II veteran Sergeant Major Charles Fielding, “The young ones – grade threes. [People] said ‘They’ll never understand’, but you’d be surprised how much they do.” Fielding says local veterans have been going to schools to talk to students for 25 years. Prior to this, veterans would appear for Remembrance Day ceremonies but not to speak directly to students.
“It’s just something you wouldn’t do,” says Fielding. “We’d just go in and put in an appearance.”
Fielding said a teacher in Youngstown invited the veterans in to speak to the students and answer questions; after some return invitations, the veterans began accumulating items and memorabilia from their past service in the war and bringing the collection to show students. “We have quite a display for a couple old guys,” says Fielding, “They appreciate [the effort], and we don’t mind doing it now.”
Dianne Lance, member of the Ladies Auxiliary and President of the Hanna Legion says the responses from students has been immensely positive. “Even the grade threes, they’ll ask a lot of questions, and Charlie [and Richard Brunner] try to answer the questions as much as they can with what time allows,” she says. “It’s really amazing.”
Along with their memories and words of insight on the nature of combat, the veterans also bring a wealth of memorabilia directly from their wartime experience. “We have steel helmets and just about everything,” says World War Two soldier Richard Brunner, of the display they bring to students and events.
World War Two Corvette man Jack Machell adds that due to the packing, many soldiers didn’t have much room to carry anything unnecessary. “We didn’t have any room to carry anything, just enough to carry our pack-sack and our hammocks,” he says.
Speaking to the contents of his bag, Machell notes it was comprised of a mattress, two wool blankets and the outside cover. “We used to have to scrounge a pillow somewhere,” Machell notes with a laugh, “We’d go to the airforce barracks – those guys were treated better than us – and we’d nip a pillow or two.”
Fielding notes that the services provided in wartime effort was not just limited to that of the soldiers. “We had to be thankful to the people of Canada,” he says. “They gave us our supplies, they gave us our equipment, and most of all they wrote us letters.” The group noted that letters were immensely important for the morale of soldiers, and mail call was an occasion for happiness or deep sadness for the soldiers. “People would go without their meals and sometimes risk their lives to get a letter, and if the mailman didn’t bring it, his life was in danger,” quips Fielding.
“You didn’t have the internet and cell phones and everything,” says Lance, noting that communication was limited during the Second World War so when correspondence was received, it was treasured.
The group says Legions are immensely important in the maintenance and continuation of Remembrance Day services. From delivering poppies to placing wreaths on the graves of veterans; the Legion keeps the memory alive of the sacrifices made in combat situations.
Richard Brunner was Legion president for six years, and Jack Machell three years; between 1985 and 1988. Of 454 Hanna and area individuals who went to war, 29 were killed in combat from the navy, army and airforce.
“Hanna’s first casualty was a navy vet,” notes Machell, “Danny Willis.” The men are aware of the names of many casualties, being in such close proximity as soldiers hailing from a small town.
Also not lost is the appreciation the vets have for those who participate in the Legion community.  “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Lance and two or three others, we wouldn’t have a Legion,” says Fielding, “They got here six years ago, and her and her husband Don have done nothing but volunteer here and other places around the town. The Church, the Seniors’ Circle. The rest of us are kind of hanging on, we do what we can.” says Fielding of the Veteran participants.

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