COLUMN: Remembering our vets, not glorifying war

I read the Face to Face column in the Feb. 22 edition of The Tri-City News about my proposal to name a Port Moody street Veterans Way, so I thought it was appropriate for me to respond to the writers.

In my opinion, columnist Andy Radia has got things right, and although I respect the opposite viewpoint of Jim Nelson, I think he missed the point of my request, which was not wrapped in a yellow ribbon or delivered to city hall by an army recruiting officer.

My message is, simply, to thank our veterans.

At one time, I saw the military and war differently, maybe more like the American way described by Mr. Nelson.  Gradually, over the past 20 years, my opinion has changed and that was largely due to having known so many veterans.

Some of these veterans were local heroes like Smokey Smith and Cecil Merritt; most were just regular soldiers, from truck drivers to Korean War nurses, mechanics and paratroopers to my uncle, Ralph Koonts, who was part of a tank crew with the British Columbia Regiment.

One person I know well is a Second World War veteran from the Vancouver Seaforth Highlanders whose brother was a member of North Vancouver‘s military engineers who died on the beach at Normandy. I had heard about his brother’s death from a fellow engineer, a true story about how a German machine gunner concentrated his gun fire on this one person. I have never told this story to the living brother and that’s why I haven’t mentioned his name here.

All of these men and women are the same: They are proud to have worn a uniform and they all understand what war is all about, and they passed that message onto me. They never glorified war and they never really spoke about it. No matter how many questions I asked my Uncle Ralph, he would not say anything — and he never wore his medals which collected dust in his bedroom drawer. They just tried to forget.

I have also recently become friends with a silver cross mother, Anne Bason, who lost her son Colin in Afghanistan just a few years ago. She is amazing, showing great strength in dealing with the loss of her beloved child, and when I speak with her, it is difficult for me to have that same strength and not break down. I never knew Anne’s son but he was someone young, from our generation, killed in a war.

When I asked for a portion of Hope Street to be renamed Veterans Way, my intention was to thank our veterans. The letter I wrote to mayor and council did not say things like “For our glorious dead” or in celebration of going to war but I did say the naming is for those Port Moody residents who helped to stop wars, like the Canadians who restored peace to South Korea 60 years ago or for those that defeated tyrants such as Adolf Hitler.

I do not feel it’s excessive to want to thank our veterans outside of Nov. 11. They have earned a lot more than two minutes of silence once a year. So why not call one block of Hope Street Veterans Way?

I don’t think it is too much to ask and it certainly does not mean we are on our way to becoming something we do not want to be.

Thank you, Andy and Jim, for your opinions. We are all entitled to have our say, and that is one important part of the democracy for which Canada’s veterans fought.

Guy Black, a Port Moody resident, is recipient of a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation and Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal.

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