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Honouring memories


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My family and I are laying flowers in the Remembrance Day ceremony this year.

While I've always tried to attend this event every year, 2016 has special significance as my father, a Second World War pilot, has just passed away aged 92.

Dr. Gilbert Mansen Ogilvie was sharp as a tack, read avidly and debated with passion any number of subjects until he was taken suddenly by a stroke.

Like so many families, our conversations were filled with catching up on the day-to-day news and talking current events.

How I wish I had spent more time talking about the past.

As my sisters and I gathered all the things together that dad had cherished, we discovered a life well lived and one filled with memories captured in black and white and colour.

Tucked into the bottom of a plastic store-all bin amongst so much bric-à-brac, imagine our surprise and pride to find dad's flight logbook from the war, his wings, a whole series of amazing photos of his flight training and his friends, all his navigation certifications, and more. He took his first solo flight Nov. 18, 1943 in a Fairchild Cornell — the logbook shows hours and hours of flying in half a dozen different types of planes including Corsairs and Tiger Moths. He was commended for his marksmanship. There were also two medals.

We remember the funny stories he told us of adventures, or misadventures, experienced while training at High River, Alta., but few and far between were the stories of combat flights, friends lost — brothers killed, all but one — the grief and the pure grit it took to come out of the war alive.

It's a familiar story among the progeny of vets of any conflict — our service men and women keep their war stories to themselves, though I hope that in today's Canada we, as a nation, are ready to listen to what they say when they do share their experiences. After all, it's just common sense to understand that everyone who survived the Second World War, or any war, suffers psychological trauma. I would add that includes the family, parents, even friends of those who serve but never come home.

I never knew my dad's mom, but as a mother myself, I can't imagine the agony of losing four of her sons to the war. Tail gunners, dad told us while explaining the death of his siblings, seemed to get access to ladies' nylons and chocolates. This made them very popular, and the danger of the job made the young men revered. It was a crucial job with a frighteningly short lifespan.

According to the Government of Canada, over 2 million Canadians have made contributions during times of war, conflict and peace.

Who knows how many of them lived out their lives torn between the pride they felt in their service, and the horror they felt remembering the frontlines.

Though much remains to be done to help today's Canadians returning from missions, at least we have seen the Liberal government re-open nine Veterans Affairs offices closed by the previous Conservative government. The Liberals have also increased financial benefits for veterans whose careers are impacted by injury.

Veterans Affairs (VA) last year also publicly committed to annually tracking vet suicides for the first time. The inaugural report is expected in December of 2017. And VA and National Defence are working together on a suicide-prevention strategy, mandated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year after an investigation by The Globe and Mail newspaper into military suicides.

Today's headlines are full of reporting on conflicts across the globe.

While we honour and remember all those who have fought and continue to serve we should note that the Global Peace Index, which is compiled annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace think tank, paints a somber picture: The world has become even less peaceful in 2016, continuing a decade-long trend of increased violence and strife.

Iceland was once again named the world's most peaceful country, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal, the latter improving nine places. Syria was once again named the least peaceful country.

Canada is the eighth most peaceful country in the world.

That is also something to honour.