Monday, February 01, 2010

When A Soldier Comes Home

The first friend I made when I moved to Toronto was a guy named Dave Barton.  Dave lived in the rooming house I moved into when I first arrived and worked for Toronto Hydro. He was newly arrived from England and we immediately hit it off, sharing the same whacked sense of humor, love of heavy metal and a tall cool one after work.

More than anyone else, Dave introduced me to Toronto. And on many late nights over burgers at People’s --- still one of the best places in the big smoke to find a great homemade hamburger --- we’d solve the world’s problems.

We shared a great summer and then we moved apart and then drifted apart.  A few years ago, we reconnected online and every now and then I get an email about some of the things in life that he ponders.

One arrived on the weekend as I was reading reactions from the Left and Right of the Canadian political spectrum to the Supreme Court of Canada refusing to force our government to repatriate former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

For those who don’t know the Khadr tale, he was a 15 year old combatant or non-combatant (depending on which side of the story you believe) who was captured in the early days of the Afghan war by US Troops after a firefight in which he was reported to have killed an American medic.

Khadr is a Canadian citizen who had been taken to Afghanistan by his father, Ahmed, a supporter of Al Qaida. In the process, (again depending on who you believe) he either became a terrorist or was simply a teenage innocent caught in the conflict.

Ridiculous by any humane standard is that Khadr has been in custody for 8 years without coming to trial. But with eyewitnesses claiming he killed an Army medic and videotape evidence of him constructing roadside bombs, it’s hard to know if anything the Canadian government says or does would cause the US Military to release him.

I think what strikes me as most ironic in all this is that while many Canadians probably don’t remember the name of the latest Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, most losing their lives to roadside bombs, we all know the name of Omar Khadr.

Somehow the rights and freedoms the men and women in our armed forces defend are respected more than the people who do the fighting and dying to preserve them.

I don’t do guest posts often around here. But with Dave’s permission, I’m posting the email he sent. It speaks more eloquently to all of this than I could ever be.

Dave – over to you….

“I think there is another side to war that few of us that have never been in battle can even consider. Pictures of flag draped caskets and veterans with arms and legs missing are a glaring display of the terrible cost that confront the families of those who went to the other side of the world in order to protect every one of us and the lives that we have all learned to cherish and take for granted.

I think sometimes of my Grandfather as well as a good friend, Mel Knight, that I was privileged to work with at Toronto Hydro in the seventies.....although they never met each other, the common denominator in their lives was the fact they were both in the Merchant Navy (Canada and Britain) and until the outbreak of the Second World War neither had a clue where towns called Murmansk and Archangel were located....

Both of these guys were my heroes. Having a beer at the Legion in Toronto with Mel and having another Legion member joke about him spending the war in a rubber dinghy and Mel joking about your pay stopping the instant your ship sinks and and you inflate your Mae West. (Four times for Mel, and twice for my Granddad!).

Both of these men thought they were nothing special....no war wounds for Granddad, but Mel was machine gunned in his little dinghy twice. Both had never fired a gun in the entire war, no drama, medals and stories to tell the grandkids, not even a pension!

There was one other common denominator.....thirty or forty years after these "nothing special" guys would sit quietly and the tears and the shaking would start.....both expressing a wish that someone would develop a magic pill that would wipe their memories of the images and the screaming of friends in the burning water.

Just like Mel and Granddad, nobody walks away from war with no wounds. And sometimes the worst of these wounds lurk deep in memories where healing is just not as easy as the ones repaired by stitches and surgery.

Thanks Granddad, Mel Knight and every other person that went to war so I could enjoy my pension and my garden and the total freedom to call our PM a fool if I so wish without fear of being rounded up and shot for expressing that opinion.

Everyone that returns to us after fighting a war for our benefit does so with terrible wounds. And the worst obscenity is to sit back and claim that they are all fine and need nothing from us, the very people they fought for....” 

WHEN A SOLDIER COMES HOME

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When a soldier comes home, he finds it hard...

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…to listen to his son whine about being bored.

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...to keep a straight face when people complain about potholes .

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…to be tolerant of those who grumble about the hassle of getting ready for work.

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...to be understanding when a co-worker grouses about not getting a good night's sleep.

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… to be silent when people pray to God for a new car.

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…to be compassionate when someone expresses a fear of flying.

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...to keep from laughing when parents are afraid to send their kids to summer camp.

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...to keep from ridiculing someone who moans about hot weather.

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...to control his frustration when a colleague gripes about his coffee being cold.

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...to remain calm when his daughter bitches about having to walk the dog.

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...to be civil to people who bellyache about their jobs.

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...to just walk away when someone says they only get two weeks of vacation.

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...to be forgiving when someone says how hard it is to have a new baby in the house.


The only thing harder than being a Soldier…

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…Is loving one.

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2 comments:

deborah Nathan said...

Beautiful post. Thanks Dave and Jim.

JA Goneaux said...

Another home run, Jim (although in a pinch hitting role. Sometimes those are the best kind).

The Khadrs were mercenaries, and while some discussion could be made about this Khadr's age, the fact is mercenaries have no rights on the battlefield. Just ask those guys still in prison in Africa...and they are lucky they weren't summarily executed when caught.

And if he is considered a POW? POWs can be held, without trial, for the duration of the war. Which, in this case, will be over when Khadr's side gives in. Which means his beard will be grey.