In 1975 my dad’s mother married a wonderful man named Karl. I was nine years old and all I really knew about him at the time was that he served his country in World War II, just like my mom’s beloved father had. One big difference between them was that one was in the Air Force and the other was in the Navy. The much bigger difference, though, was that Karl had fought for Germany, and not Canada.
Upon learning this fact, I immediately felt stress. What would happen the first time my new Opa met my old Papa? I feared for the worst.
With my young imagination running wild, I don’t know what I expected exactly, but I certainly didn’t envision what actually transpired.
When Karl Terweg met John Hetherington for the first time, they shook hands and smiled warmly at one another as my little brother and I watched nervously. In broken English Karl spoke to John about many things that night in our home, none of which involved the war they had both served in decades earlier.
Despite their peaceful introduction, I worried about any conflict between them in the future.
“Why don’t they hate each other?” I asked my grandmother. “Canada and Germany were enemies.”
“The war ended a long time ago,” my grandma explained. “They’re not enemies anymore. And neither Papa nor Opa ever wanted that war to happen.”
For the first time, I pictured these important older men in my life as the young innocent lads they once were, bravely serving their countries in a gruesome battle of enormous magnitude. Grateful that they both survived, seemingly unharmed by the experience, I remember asking them years later, individually, what that time was like for them. Neither of them wanted to talk about it.
What I did learn about World War II, or any war at all, came from my parents, school or what I watched on television. The atrocities of war and the reasons for their eruptions were as confusing to me back then as they are today.
My daughter Daisy is now the exact same age I was when I met Opa. Unfortunately he and Papa passed away long before before she or her older brother Sam were born, so my children never had the opportunity to meet any courageous veterans from our family.
“That’s okay,” my daughter said. “I just hope all wars will stop. People shouldn’t fight, they should use their words. Right Mama?”
Right Daisy. If Karl Terweg and John Hetherington were alive today, I’m sure they would agree.
For all our veterans who didn’t have that option and fought for their country’s freedom, we will honour them on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month with two minutes of silence. What a small price to pay for the sacrifices they made for us.
Mahatma Gandhi one said: “If we are to teach real peace in the world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”
I’m sure Karl and John would have agreed with that too.
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