We will remember them

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Dispatches by Herb Peppard

Veteran recalls time in Italy on Christmas Eve

Veteran recalls time in Italy on Christmas Eve

Nov. 11, 2013 was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was also the day I was bursting with pride for my country, Canada. This was the country that never forgets. Standing there, all around the cenotaph were more than 2,000 people, showing their gratitude and love. They were also showing the world that they would never forget.

As I looked at our beautiful cenotaph, with the four young military people standing guard upon it, my mind took a flashback. It took me back to Italy. It was Christmas Eve, 1943.  Our outfit was ordered to take a mountain top (there were lots of mountain tops there). The weather was rainy and cold but orders were orders. We took the objective under very heavy mortar fire.

My best buddy, George Smith, was killed that night, (Christmas Eve). A mortar shell exploded right at his feet. He died instantly. It took me quite a while to get over the loss of  ‘Smitty,’ maybe I never will get over his loss.

As I stared at the cenotaph and the soldier guards, an amazing thing happened. A young soldier’s head and face appeared imprinted over the names chiselled into that unforgiving granite. As I concentrated more on the vision I came to an amazing realization. This face was the face of my long-lost buddy, Smitty. There was an impish smile on his face so then I knew damn well it was Smitty. What a vision to have on Remembrance Day.

Now to return to the present. I heard a band strike up and the spectators applaud as the parade marched toward us along Prince Street. I heard a great deal of clapping. I also heard many voices. It sounded like a beautiful chorus expressing their deep-felt gratitude as they shouted to the veterans “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”

Proudly leading this huge parade was our own Ron Trowsdale, now the president of the Nova Scotia- Nunavut Command of the Royal Canadian Legion.

As the parade lined up around the cenotaph for some reason I became quite emotional. I had never seen such a marvelous well-run ceremony in Truro on Remembrance Day. We are very, very fortunate to have such dedicated members in our Truro legion branch.

Murray Dawson, a legion member of long-standing, was the chief organizer and he should receive a medal for a job well done.

Bill Heron, our president gave a speech I’m sure the audience will never forget. I’ve been around a long time and he filled me in on some things I never heard of. Good job Bill.

I’d like to say to the Truro legion— and I speak for all people, in Truro and people in the vicinity, thank you for the tremendous amount of work and love you put into the Remembrance Day Ceremony on Nov. 11, 2013.

I’m reminded of the mountains of Italy in January 1944. Norm Gray and I were in a mucky foxhole on top of one of the rugged mountains that ringed the countryside. We were wet, we were cold, we were miserable, we were not very happy. I thought I’d look for a brighter side of life. I said to Norm, “Do you think we’ll ever be remembered in future years?”

“ Not a chance,” Norm said. “In 20 years all this suffering and sacrifice will be forgotten.”

“I disagree,” I said. “I think people will show their respect for us for 20 and even to 50 years after this war is over.”

Norm gave a snort of disbelief, “That won’t never happen Herb, I don’t know how you come up with these crazy ideas.”

However, it did happen. Not 20 years after the war ended, not 50 years after the war ended, but 68 years since the end of the Second World War.

The celebration this Remembrance Day exceeded any other celebration I have ever attended. It was a celebration of respect and love that surpassed all those that preceded it. It was a proud day for the veterans, one they will never forget and always cherish

      On Oct. 17, 1984, I felt a terrible pensive, lonely feeling come over me. I was thinking of some of my fallen comrades I’d lost overseas. So, I decided to write a poem for them. Here is that poem I wrote from my heart.

We may forget how the ominous clouds

Rolled o’er the sea from a distant shore.

And called our young and precious men

And plunged them into the hell of war.

We may forget how the bulging ships

Took from our land our pride and gems.

We may forget all this - and yet,

We will always remember them.

 

We may forget those dark, dark days

When all we knew was fear and death.

When mighty armies met and clashed

While the whole world waited - held its breath.

We may forget how our young and brave

Filled in the breach, the tide to stem.

We may forget brave days of the past - but,

We will always remember them.

 

We may forget that glorious day

When the gun-fire ceased, our boys came home.

We may forget a mother’s prayer

As she knelt in the church to pray alone.

We may forget how close we came

To freedom’s loss - through greed of men.

We may forget all this – but, we vow,

        We will always remember them. 

 

Herb Peppard is a longtime Truro resident. His column appears regularly in the Truro Daily News.

 

Organizations: Royal Canadian Legion, Truro Daily News

Geographic location: Italy, Truro, Canada Prince Street Nova Scotia

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