Decoration Day ceremony honours all affected by war

Matt Gardner
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Before Remembrance Day became Canada’s most visible holiday honouring veterans, there was Decoration Day.

Created in 1890, Decoration Day remains a recognized tradition in which tribute is paid to all the Canadian soldiers who have fought for their country over the years.

That tradition continued on Sunday at the Prince Albert Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans (ANAVETS) auditorium, where police, veterans, cadets and their supporters gathered after the scheduled ceremony at South Hill Cemetary Veterans Field of Honour (in which war graves were decorated with Canadian flags) was rained out.

But while the address of the Rev. Joanne Beacon certainly paid tribute to the veterans who fought -- and in many cases, died -- for Canada, the padre of ANAVETS Unit 222 also cast her net wider in the recognition of those affected by war.

“My list of recognitions began to grow as I thought about the other people who have suffered and sacrificed and defended our country and our freedom,” Beacon noted.

“Think about it -- not just those who died on D-Day or those who lay at the battle of Britain, at sea, not just those who died in other battles of world wars of our distinction, those of Afghanistan. I started to make a list of who we needed to be grateful for, whose graves are not present, and we may never know where they are.”

The list Beacon offered of those affected by war was a lengthy one.

She noted those on the home front -- the workers in the factories who built the equipment soldiers needed to fight abroad, and the families who contributed to the war effort even as they fretted over the fate of their loved ones far from home.

“I thought of the wives, some of them fighting and most recently many more, but (also) those who waited at home and cared for and did other jobs,” Beacon said to the audience. “Women really stepped up to it in the Second World War and now women are full-fledged members of the workforce. We have much to be grateful for.

“We think of the children, and many of us were children of servicemen, and you have come today to honour them. But I honour you today, because you too made sacrifices -- the father or mother who was not home when you wanted to be, who was unable to attend, who did not play sports with you because perhaps they were absent or disabled or dead.”

Other groups Beacon paid tribute to included social workers, war amputees, hospital visitors and cadets.

She praised the work of emergency first responders as well as police, paying tribute to officers affected by the recent murders of RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B.

“My list grew to include victims -- those who were swept up in so much conflict and who suffered, also suffered, but without recognition at all unless we give it, and we must,” Beacon said.

My list of recognitions began to grow as I thought about the other people who have suffered and sacrificed and defended our country and our freedom. The Rev. Joanne Beacon

Aside from the victims of conflict in Croatia-Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Korea, Southeast Asia, East Africa, those who died in the 9/11 attacks and, more recently, in Ukraine, Beacon also noted the impact on families of soldiers who returned home traumatized by their wartime experiences.

She urged her audience to feel the weight of their responsibility for being what she termed the “survivors” of war.

“In a very real way, we are the first fruits of the peace that has been won in which we are privileged to live, and in which we have (been) given the opportunity to really make something of our lives and the lives of those around us,” Beacon said.

“So I thank each one of you for the contribution you’ve made, are making and will make toward a better world -- and a still better world to come.”

Besides Beacon’s address, Sunday’s Decoration Day ceremony also included the singing of hymns, a list of honoured dead, the laying of wreaths and a moment of silence.

The Right Rev. Charles Arthurson, retired suffragan bishop and padre for the Royal Canadian Legion, also offered prayers for those at rest.

One of the veterans present at the ceremony was Second World War veteran Marvin Byrne, who served in the North Atlantic from 1942 to 1945.

“We were with the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting convoys and submarine patrols … We did weather flights and we did air search and rescue for downed navy or air force groups,” he recalled. “And then I served for a year in Iceland, and the last year and a half I served flying out of air bases in Britain.”

The experience of attending the Decoration Day ceremony summoned many old memories for Byrne.

“It’s just remembrance, really,” he said.

“It’s been so many years,” he added. “But you still think of your friends and your schoolmates and your boyhood friends that never came back -- and even the ones that did are pretty well all gone now.”

See also:

'They shall grow not old': Veterans honoured at Decoration Day

Organizations: Prince Albert Army, RCMP, Royal Canadian Legion

Geographic location: Britain, Afghanistan, Canada Moncton Croatia-Bosnia Iraq Iran Korea Southeast Asia East Africa Ukraine North Atlantic Iceland

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