Why Canadians Remember

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                             Nov. 12, 2017

Remembrance Day      Luke 10:25-37; I John 3:11, 16-18

Today, we remember those who served in the Armed Forces. We remember those who lost their lives or their health—physical or mental. We also remember those who served on the sidelines—the women and men who kept the country going while others were serving overseas. My uncle, Gordon Shepherd, was one of those who served on the sidelines. When he signed up with the air force in 1942, they needed people to serve here, in Canada. Although he was disappointed that he could not join his older comrades overseas, he worked for two years as ground crew at the Gimli air force base. Then an opportunity arrived. The air force was flying thousands of planes over the north to Russia. Many of these planes crashed due to mechanical failure, bad weather, lack of navigational aids or human error and many of the pilots from these downed planes were dying from exposure.

The RCAF decided to train a rescue team that could parachute into crash sites and stabilize the victims until they could be safely evacuated. They received over 20,000 applications for this first training class and my uncle was one of 12 chosen because he happened to have the unusual set of skills required: tumbling, wilderness survival training, first aid and physical fitness. He later admitted that his skill of story-telling and embellishment also helped his application. This first class became the founders and trainers of Pararescue, later called Search and Rescue. They began to risk their lives in a different way, parachuting into the northern Canadian wilderness to save the lives of downed pilots.

My uncle died at 95 years of age this past spring. As I was concluding his graveside service in Osoyoos, we heard a dull roar begin to increase in volume. We looked up and saw yellow Search and Rescue planes performing a fly-by in his honour.

Gordon’s Pararescue training in the Air Force helped prepare him for his dream of becoming a medical doctor where his Pararescue motto guided his entire life: “these things I shall do that others may live.” Gordon wrote, “I have had a great outdoor life in a beautiful land, doing a very beneficial service—even saving lives at times. Humbling that such good could have come from war!”[1]

We will never rejoice over the horrors of war, but because of innovative training programs that were begun during the war and because of so many who offered their own lives for the sake of others, we have richly benefitted. We live in a country that is free and democratic, honouring human rights and gender equality, offering universal health care, being a mosaic of ethnic and cultural diversity. These are the Canadian values for which members of our Armed Forces have laid down their lives.

I have become increasingly disturbed by fascist protestors who wave the Canadian flag in support of Canadian values that look very different from the values which our veterans risked their lives to preserve. Canadian values do not protect the interests of any one ethnic group over and against others. So what are Canadian values? Are they British? French? Indigenous? Schools are beginning to incorporate into their curriculum the 7 Sacred Indigenous Teachings of love, humility, honesty, wisdom, courage, truth and respect. These are becoming as foundational as our British and French values of peace, order, good governance, democracy, individual freedom and communal wellbeing.

It might surprise you that our Canadian values are not entirely secular. The very first sentence of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights reads, “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” This suggests that our religious values underpin Canadian values. They were founded on our Christian teachings of sacrificial love for our neighbours, regardless of their ethnicity. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he was explicitly telling his followers to love and care for those of a different ethnicity and religion.

At the end of the second world war, Canadians were coming to terms with their own racism which had led to the internment not only of Japanese Canadians, but also of Ukrainians, Finns, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans—any who were linked with an enemy country. Canada realized that the very fascism it fought against overseas was taking root in our own country. We responded by repealing racist laws and signing the UN Charter of Human Rights. We could not let our soldiers die in vain.

I John 3 reads, “We know love by this, that Christ Jesus laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Jesus was willing to risk his life by calling the religious and civil leaders to account for their abuses. He suffered a torturous death because of love. This same love calls us to be willing to stand up for the rights of others, to protest against discrimination, injustice and cruelty with every cell of our body, even at the risk of our own lives.

There are very few of us who would be willing to love others to this degree. But our soldiers have. They believed that our Canadian values and beliefs were being threatened and they were willing to lay their lives on the line to protect them. There is a quote on the Canadian veterans’ website that reads,

We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand Canadian lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada. The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument.[2]

We remember the past so that we can be more faithful today and into the future. Through the guiding light of Christ, we ask God to help us love unconditionally every one of our neighbours. We will do all we can to protect our beloved Canadian values, in honour of our fallen soldiers. We will catch the torch thrown to us from dying hands in the trenches and will not break faith with them.

[1] https://sarcourse49.com/2016/06/13/the-first-of-the-best/

[2] 1Heather Robertson, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War. Toronto, Lorimer, 1977.