I remember the red poppies, the drone of bagpipes and the clop-clop sound of boots worn by well-travelled soldiers marching to the beat of a drum. It was Remembrance Day, and I was young – probably seven or eight years of age.
The Canadian flag-adorned war veterans who stood in the crowd were stone-faced, solemn. They were at the event to remember the fallen, and we school students were, too.
And then it dawned on me.
What if my forefathers had shot at these very men, the ones standing at attention on a cold day in Canada, on a battlefield somewhere in Europe during the Second World War?
That day, as a kid of German-Canadian heritage, I couldn’t escape the thought.
For whatever reason, a wave of Remembrance Day “guilt” had washed over me. Decades later, those feelings still linger, and it can be uncomfortable at this time of year.
For background, a bit about me.
A couple of decades before I was born, my parents immigrated to Canada from “the old country.” As kids, they’d lived through the war years of the early 1940s in a small German town where they met and later married. In the mid-1950s, with not much in the way of money or possessions, and with a toddler (my eldest brother) in tow, they settled in rural Aldergrove to begin life anew, Canadian style.
As a family, we always made a point of observing Remembrance Day, even if it meant simply watching CBC-TV coverage from Parliament Hill and standing still for a minute.
Elsewhere on the TV dial, we enjoyed watching reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes,” a half-hour comedy that made fun of inept German soldiers who ran a prisoner-of-war camp. I laughed, because it was a funny show, but those guffaws, especially with my friends around, came with some uncomfortable feelings.
Today, I always buy and wear a poppy – many of them, it seems, because the things keep falling off my jacket, but that’s another story.
Nov. 11 is a day when I make an effort to attend an event at 11 a.m., to stand in silence with my present-day family and remember fallen soldiers.
I pay tribute to Canadian soldiers, of course, and also those of all countries, including Germany.
On Remembrance Day, we shouldn’t forget that soldiers died for the country for which they fought, and often they had no choice but to enter a battlefield.
For me, it doesn’t matter what country that is.
I remember all soldiers, and I don’t feel guilty about that.
Tom Zillich is an editor with the Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.