It wasn’t only the biting breeze that chilled the people standing in front of the memorial plaque. Clouds bolstered by the November wind covered the sun. Hands clasped hot coffee cups or hid inside warm jacket pockets. Silence overcame the courtyard when the mournful tunes of bagpipes resounded at 11 o’clock.
Members of St. Thomas University and the greater Fredericton community gathered on Friday, Nov. 9 in the lower courtyard on campus to honour those who served in war and still serve their country in peace work.
The half hour memorial service included prayers for peace from different faith communities, music, laying of wreaths, and poetry.
Master Corporal Stephane Caillie shared his experience of serving abroad. He began his speech by telling how he once listened with his buddies over a few beers on Remembrance Day to veterans’ stories about Europe and the two World Wars.
He said he missed both his sons’ birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, his grandmother’s funeral, Christmas and many more important events while being trained for his time in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, he went months without running water and slept with a loaded pistol and a rifle beside him.
“I’ve been shot at, rockets fired metres over my head. I’ve driven over IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and had suicide bombers strike our convoys. I experienced everything,” said Caillie.
When he came home, everybody asked him the same question: How was your tour?
“I never knew how to answer it. On the one hand, it was truly the worst experience of my life, and in the same breath it was amazing. I was able to put into practice what I spent years of training to do and I was good at it. I was able to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves.”
He said the tour changed his life forever. But he’s not alone. War has changed the lives of thousands.
“I don’t regret a moment,” he says, “and I’d go back in a heartbeat for the simple fact, I know we made a difference. I could tell the differences while I was there.”
On that tour 19 Canadian soldiers died and many more were forever scarred. While Caillie got out alive, some of his friends were not so fortunate.
“Some of the good buddies that sat with me on Remembrance Day having a beer and listening to the veteran’s stories won’t be with me this year. They left everything they had on the battlefield and sacrificed everything for peace.”
According to Caillie, the faces of veterans are changing. Now, they look like him. He plans to sit down for a few beers on Nov. 11, the same way he used to. But now, he’ll be telling stories to new soldiers.
“When they get half drunken [and] go home, I’ll stay and I’ll honour my buddies from the past. I will remember them.”
St. Thomas University student Keirstin Andersson said it’s important young people come out and pay their respects. Remembrance Day has always been very important to the history and religious studies major from Halifax, since she lost family members in wars.
“My great-grandfather, my grandmother’s father, was wounded in battle and he lived the rest of his life with a bullet in him. He was one of the most important people to my family and he eventually died because of that wound. He was everything to my family. When he passed it really affected my mum and my grandmother. It was before I was born, but they always speak of him. And I’m always happy to hear about him. I’m here [at the memorial service] for him and his brothers that were killed in action [in the Second World War].”
Samantha Neil has also family members in the military. Her uncle is posted in Afghanistan. The criminology student said we take a lot for granted.
“I think the importance for students to participate [in memorial service] is a good idea to learn that it’s not just an easy road to get to an easy life. We have to struggle but through struggle comes greatness.”