Every year beginning on November 1 until November 11, we wear a poppy over our hearts to signify the remembrance of World War I and World War II, and the men and women who sacrificed their lives so we could have the freedom that we so rightfully have today.
I wear it for my grandfather. He served his country with pride during the Second World War; a Corporal with the Second Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry, he stormed the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 with his brothers at his side.
My grandfather was a humble man, a quiet man, a man who loved his family, and even more loved me – his only grandchild. You see, my grandfather is not my grandfather by blood, but only by marriage. My grandmother married him in the 70’s, almost ten years after her first husband died (my father’s dad); I don’t care if we’re not blood related, he’s my grandfather and he means the world to me. He was born in Poland and emigrated to Canada in the late 1930’s; he joined the Canadian military shortly there after, and went to war for this country in the 1940’s.
He didn’t really talk much about the war, who would when you had to kill people you didn’t know in order to save your own life and those who are back in Canada. He died in March 1985 when I was only two and a half; I remember vividly the day when he told me why he decided to fight in World War II. Yeah, I was nearly three, but I still remember the conversation like it was yesterday. We were sitting in the living room of the house that I live in now (he built it from the ground up with his own two hands), in his satiny green arm chair, watching our favorite show – Fraggle Rock. I don’t remember the month or the day, but that conversation… I do. He told me that he did what he did for me, even though he wasn’t sure if he was going to live or if he was going to die. He wasn’t sure if he would get married and have children of his own, but he couldn’t take the chance of not being able to entertain that thought. As a Polish man, if we lost the War, he would have been killed (if not on the front lines) by Nazi’s for not being German.
He told me that he fought so I could sit with him and watch television, that I could vote for who I wanted to vote for, and so that I had the freedom to do just about anything I wanted to. He fought so that I could have any friend I wanted, no matter their religion, skin color, or race. He told me that there was an evil man who wanted to take over the world and change it so that only certain people lived and that other people could not.
I was two. It was profound and still is.
My grandfather also loved the drink and he deserved it rightfully so. Could you imagine being that young and seeing the things that you would see during the course of a war? Dead bodies, burnt bodies, slaughtered bodies; killing people you don’t know just to save your own. I had no problem and have no problem with our Vets having a drink or two a day, or even drinking all day at the Legions on Remembrance Day.
It wasn’t until after his death in 1985 that I learned something pretty freakin’ fantastic about my grandfather. One evening during the war he and a fellow comrade went, against the orders of his Commander, in to enemy territory and captured two high ranking German officials. Pretty brazen. Pretty bad ass. He received many medals for his time in the War, medals which we no longer have, medals I wish my father did not sell. My grandfather was also pretty sneaky – when he built this house he buried his service pistols and during renovations, we found all but one. It was a Luger and man… that pistol was bad ass. I was told the Luger was from one of the German officials he captured. A little souvenir for what he did. We didn’t have a gun permit so we had to turn it in. I wish my dad didn’t, I wish my dad would have had the thing disabled so I could frame it.
I also wear it for my Great Uncle, Lloyd. He was a fighter pilot in WWII, shot down by the Nazi’s and thrown into a Concentration Camp. Until his death in the late 1990’s, he bore the numbers that would identify him in that camp and when asked about it – he never spoke of it. Would you?
I wear it for the Vets that I do not know. I wear it, because alongside my grandfather and uncle, they made my life possible. They gave me the freedom and the choice to make all the life decisions I have made thus far. If you see a Vet, hug and thank them. It really does mean a lot to them, especially when it comes from a young person.
Every Remembrance Day (November 11), I visit my grandfather’s grave. I go around 11am so I can stand in silence for one minute, to remember the sacrifices that were made during that time period, and to remember my grandfather and his friends.
This year, when you place the Poppy on your coat above your heart, remember all the things that these men and women did for us. Remember that they gave us the right to vote, that they gave us the option to choose any religion, they gave us the option to attend school – any school and at any age. They gave us the freedom too make friends with anyone we chose to do, the right to have a free mind and the right to read any book we want and not just a specific one.
Remember that on November 11, 1918 and June 6, 1944, brave men and women pushed forth on enemy territory to make ensure that our lives would not be at the feet of evil dictators and that we had the right to choose.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.