Hay Riverites gathered at the Royal Canadian Legion to mark Remembrance Day yesterday, doing their part in this year’s flood of support for Canadian troops past and present.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe,” read Legion Chaplain Vicky Latour at yesterday’s ceremony from the well-known poem In Flanders Fields. “To you, from failing hands, we throw/ The torch, be yours to hold it high.”
Across the country, Canadians turned out in particularly large numbers for ceremonies honouring past and present members of Canada’s armed forces.
With the recent murders of servicemen in Quebec and Ontario, the military – and the issues facing the men and women who serve in it – are at the forefront of many people’s minds.
“Radicalism is there and it’s going to get worse in my opinion,” said retired Master Cpl. Ken Comeau. “I think they’re going to have more radicals and they have to recognize that, with any engagement Canada is going to have with ISIS.”
Comeau, who served in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall and in Cyprus, said whenever he has spoken at Remembrance Day ceremonies in Hay River in the past, there has always been a large crowd. This year, he spent the day with his daughter, who is a Canadian Forces Warrant Officer in the south.
“We’ve still got a safe country, as far as I’m concerned,” he told The Hub. “But I do think people are more aware.”
For Comeau, domestic attacks are only one of the dangers facing soldiers and modern veterans on Canadian soil. He said he has been appalled by the struggles soldiers returning from overseas have to go through to get help from the government.
“My biggest concern right now are the young ones,” he said. “They’re hurting, they’ve got families, they can’t get jobs and they’re kicked out of the army. When you’re young, you don’t realize you’re poor. When you have a family to support, it’s different.”
While the stigma against post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has lessened in recent years, the military is still prone to what Comeau calls a “macho culture.” Furthermore, he said, the federal government is not living up to its obligations to soldiers facing mental and physical illnesses when they return home.
“They’ve come a long way since my time, that’s for sure,” he said. “But it’s still pretty much a system where you’re refused help the first time you apply … It’s like an insurance claim, you have to prove everything to them.”
Wars today are much different than those Comeau served in, he explained. Compared with the First and Second World Wars, Canadian deployments in Bosnia and Afghanistan are short and violent. Soldiers see more combat over a shorter period of time and many of them are young, something he said makes it harder for them to deal with their traumatic experiences.
“I think there’s more awareness now,” said Comeau. “Especially because of those two soldiers who were killed.
“They can see what soldiers do and how they serve, and recognize and appreciate it. I think the veterans coming back from Afghanistan were more appreciated by civilians than by the bureaucrats who were supposed to be helping them.”