Almost 70 years have passed since the end of World War II. We have generations, of which I am included, that have no idea of the devastating effects a global war can bring. It’s hard to grasp the trauma, fear, and heartache our grandparents and great grandparents experienced during one of the most turbulent periods in human history. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
My grandfather didn’t always like to talk with me about his experiences as a bomber pilot during World War II. He was more open in earlier years, but I was too young to hear such stories. There were some incredible things he was awarded for during his service, but there was one event my grandmother told me after his passing that shook me to the core.
At one point in the war, there was a German battleship that had been extremely deadly, but also quite elusive. One morning, my grandfather’s squadron scrambled with the rest of the fleet for an attack on this battleship. Somehow, my grandfather slept in, and missed joining his team on that raid. NONE of his squadron came back. Had my grandfather been with them, he would have shared their fate, and neither my sister nor I, my cousins, my mother nor her siblings would exist today. And yet, though he survived, I cannot imagine what this must have done to him mentally and emotionally—let alone the guilt he felt for the civilians who were killed during the bombing raids he had to perform in the line of duty.
But it’s not just those on the front lines that suffer because of wars. For many Canadian immigrants from Eastern Europe during World War I, even the very country they had come to find refuge in became a prison. Fearing that they were spies for Germany and Austria, many immigrants from Ukraine and other neighboring countries were forced by the government into internment camps throughout the nation. These people—who had come after seeing posters and ads from the Canadian government encouraging settlers to fill the land—were betrayed and humiliated after giving up so much just to come here. And to add insult to injury, the Canadian government at the time attempted to hide this from the history books, destroying nearly all records of the internment camps’ existence.
Fearing further punishment, many of the survivors said nothing of their ordeal, and took the secret to their graves. This story hits all too close to home, as I have learned that although my great grandmother and her family were Polish, their passports were Austrian due to the world’s borders at that time. No one has ever stated if it happened, but there is a very good chance she and her family were among those imprisoned because of who ruled the region they escaped from. The idea that she may have lived with those secrets boggles my mind.
We live in a world where the ideas of war and death have been separated from their costs and effects. And as much as we can argue about which side was the right side, it’s like what a dear friend told me recently: “There really is no good side in a war.” Both sides end up doing things that could make our worst nightmares— just for the sake of victory. And when I think of it, it’s not just those who were decorated who were heroes, or those whose lives ended suddenly. Really, it takes even greater strength to get up every day after witnessing such horror, death, destruction, disease and inhumanity and not give up on life. The generations who came after wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the people who bravely pressed on despite their experiences.
As we remember the fallen who never came home, the ones who made it back but have since passed away, and the ones still with us, let us never forget the true cost of what they sacrificed; whether they wore a uniform or not. For in reality, we have truly been in the presence of heroes.
Always with love,
The Canuck Pin-up