Saskatchewan

Next generation of Sask. veterans emphasize awareness as they carry on Remembrance Day traditions

The new generation of veterans has a big responsibility ahead — ensuring the sacrifices many service members have made are never forgotten.
Poppies lie on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Remembrance Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The new generation of veterans has a big responsibility ahead — ensuring the sacrifices many service members have made are never forgotten.

It's a responsibility Paul Valiquette and Norm Marner take seriously.

"Passing the torch is so important," said Valiquette, who spent 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and served on multiple overseas deployments, including two tours in Afghanistan.

Although Remembrance Day is meant to honour all Canadian war veterans, there has usually been a focus on veterans who fought in the first and second world wars, along with the Korean War. But as time goes on, there are fewer veterans around who served in those wars to share their stories.

"It's kind of difficult for the general population to understand what they've gone through, and myself even to see what they've gone through," said Valiquette, who's also a provincial service officer for the Saskatchewan Legion and provides mental health first aid to veterans in the province.

He said service members overseas now have access to technology like the internet and phones, whereas veterans from previous wars could only communicate with their loved ones through mail, which made the situation even more challenging.

"Try to think about what they went through and the sacrifices that they made for us to have our freedoms now," he said.

"It'd be nice to have more than just one day to reflect on it, because they did so much."

Norm Marner, who joined the service in 1974 and was deployed to countries including Germany, Egypt and Afghanistan, said he'd also like to see more appreciation for the veterans who fought before him.

"I think it's important for our young generation to understand what we have and why we have it," said Marner, who is now retired in Regina.

"It was because of World War One and World War Two and Korean veterans… Those are the guys I really look up to."

He also said he wants more recognition of the contributions Indigenous, Black and Asian veterans have made to the Canadian military.

Norm Marner joined the service in 1974 and was deployed to several countries, including Germany, Egypt and Afghanistan. (Submitted by Norm Marner)

Valiquette and Marner emphasized the importance of education when it comes to understanding the sacrifices veterans have made, along with learning lessons from the past.

"History repeats itself and we've seen that all too much," said Valiqutte.

They both said they'd like to see more Canadian military history taught in schools. Marner said watching historical television programs and documentaries is also helpful.

Valiquette said one of the best ways to learn about what happened in previous wars is to listen to some of the elderly veterans who were there. He said the veterans may appreciate it as well.

"Nine times out of 10 they just want to be heard," said Valiquette.

"Unfortunately with the older veterans, they were taught not to talk about anything, so it brewed for 40 or 50 years, and then unfortunately near the end of life all the stuff comes back and they don't know what to do."

Valiquette said thanking a veteran or current service member can also go a long way.

"Unfortunately, these days you don't hear a lot of that, but that's a good start."

1st Remembrance Day since troops left Afghanistan

Many of the next generation of veterans have served in Afghanistan. This will be the first Remembrance Day since western troops — including Canadian soldiers — were pulled out of that country and the Taliban took control.

"This one is going to be more challenging," said Valiquette.

"In your mind it's thinking, 'Well, okay, did I do the right thing? Did we actually do something over there?'"

Valiquette was with a bomb team during his last tour in Afghanistan in 2006. After returning home, he said it took about seven years before he was able to attend Remembrance Day events. He said support from fellow veterans, family, friends and members of the public has helped.

Moving forward, Valiquette said this generation of veterans has an important role to play in teaching people about Canada's military history, including the war in Afghanistan.

"If we don't tell them what happened. They're not going to know."

Marner, meanwhile, wants people to "appreciate what we have. We have a free country."

He also has some straightforward advice for the public during Remembrance Day.

"Try to understand what the military did and go buy a poppy."

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