HodgePodge: Honouring the vets
By Charlie Hodge
His eyes seem to catch mine every time I walk by.
The aging black and white photo of my deceased Uncle Roy sits on a corner table in our tiny reading room just outside my bedroom/office. It is part of a nostalgic ‘family-veteran’ display which includes my dad’s locker trunk from his days in the air force, and my grandfather’s bayonet.
It’s a sobering display of some degree, I suppose, however it grounds me, reminds me of my roots and reinforces how lucky I am that they sacrificed what they did so that I can live in a free and relatively democratic country.
Despite those who fail to appreciate how blessed we are to live in Canada, I am proud of my Canadian heritage and those who helped build what we enjoy today.
Appropriately enough, my appreciation for their sacrifice was honoured throughout the province earlier this month when B.C. residents cast their votes in the municipal election. If not for young men and women of military service in past years that right to vote would not exist. I have long maintained that the greatest way to honour such vets is not so much attending Remembrance Day ceremonies as it is to get out and vote.
If I had my way I would expand Remembrance Day to a full week.
Roy’s picture has also always caused me some trepidation and sadness when I cast my eyes upon it.
My mother use to say I reminded her a great deal of her only brother. We share the same eyes and chuckle, and love for animals. He was a much quieter fellow than I, and probably a gentler sole. He died way too young.
Uncle Roy was a cheerful, positive young man who answered the call to defend the new country of Canada, United Kingdom, and the rest of the free world from the madman across the water. He left behind his two sisters, proud parents, and loyal hunting dog, as he waved goodbye and hopped on the troop train. It was the last he saw of his Penticton home.
Like so many, he was a proud young trooper decked out in his B.C. Dragoons’ uniform and attached overseas to ‘C’ Squadron of the 9th Armoured Regiment. He likely believed he was off on an adventure and would return home with memories and medals.
After months of hard slogging his squadron had found their way into Italy in an area known as the Gothic Line. The morning of Sept 1, 1944 had already been a disaster for Allied forces with heavy German bombardment nailing the Canadians relentlessly. That horror was further compounded when a barrage of ‘friendly fire’ also began to decimate his comrades. However, Roy and his tank crew managed to survive all of that and pushed further into enemy territory.
“I saw it all, I was less than 100 metres away when he died,” another veteran named George explained a few years ago.
“Horrendously poor judgement by the commanding officers ordered Roy’s squad forward into the massive trap and just as Roy’s tank crested a hill it took a direct hit from a German anti-tank gun, killing all aboard but two.”
According to George he along with a couple of other boys from the Second Corp ‘got’ the fellows manning the anti-tank gun wounding one and taking a second fellow prisoner as well.
Roy was 21.
I have no idea how my life may have changed or been altered if Roy had survived and been part of my living world. I have often pondered that thought and wished I had known him. Certainly, my mother never got over his sudden and horrendous demise. My grandfather was never the same.
What I do know is I am thankful for what he did, for the choice he made and the self sacrifice. I am thankful I live in a free country and share the joys and blessings that I do.
Lest we forget.