I was raised to respect veterans.
My grandfathers were veterans of the First World War. During the 1930s my Grandpa Gaye owned a general store in Wynyard, Saskatchewan. During those hard times, many men travelled from town to town, looking for work. With no work to be had, they would rely on a handout before hitting the road to try another town.
My Dad told me Grandpa would give what he could when one of these “tramps,” as they were uncharitably called, showed up at the store. But if he found out that the man was a fellow veteran, he would offer a couple of days of hospitality. Hot meals, a bed to sleep in, a hot bath, and some friendly conversation were the royal treatment.
Fed, rested, and encouraged, the veteran would thank my grandparents and continue along his way.
By virtue of my own military service, I am entitled to call myself a veteran. But I admit I find it difficult.
I’m proud of my time in uniform. I was a musician, which is not the most dangerous of military occupations. But tradition, history, heritage, and ceremony are an important part of military culture. Musicians in military bands undergo the same basic training and leadership training as other members, and are subject to the Universality of Service doctrine: we were considered soldiers first, horn players second.
Still, I tend to refer to myself as a retired service member, not a veteran.
Because one of the things I gained from my “time in” was the lessons and examples of those around me. These are the people I was proud to be associated with, and the people I respect as veterans. They are the combat personnel of the navy, the army, and the air force to be sure; but also the ground crews, the engineers, the cooks, the clerks, the medics, the supply techs, the logisticians and movements personnel, the image techs, the communications branch, the truckers (I have special respect for the truckers…).
There are many more military occupations, each with a specific and important role to play on a large, complex team.
Serving alongside them, I learned what’s needed to be a good leader, and also why it’s important to know how to follow. I learned about putting the team and the mission first, and your own comforts second. I learned that a good team is made up of people who are responsible to each other, and responsible with each other to serve a common purpose.
Military cohesion is multi-dimensional. It exists laterally between peers and comrades-in-arms; it exists vertically through the hierarchy or chain of command. It also runs deep with the traditions of military history. The men and women serving today carry on the lineage of those who fought for Canada in all its conflicts from before Confederation to present-day operations worldwide.
When I think of veterans, I think of the members of today’s Canadian Armed Forces as much as I do the heroes of the past. They make me proud to have served.
Please take time to think about our veterans, including those still serving, in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. And on November 11, please pause and remember those who gave everything.
Lest We Forget.