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Veterans share stories of sacrifice with local high school students

by Kelly Waterhouse

GUELPH - Bringing history to life and honouring local veterans was the motivation behind Remembering the Sacrifice on Nov. 8 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School here.

Organized by Canadian and world studies teacher Joe Tersigni, students and the public were invited to join the special panel discussion to hear stories and pose questions to veterans representing different aspects of Canada’s war history.

Students lined the hallways and welcomed the veterans with applause as they were ushered along the corridor from the front doors to the school library.

Second World War veteran Bill Winegard spoke first, telling the students,  “In the Navy we had two enemies: the submarine and the sea, and the sea was far more significant. You had to take what it gave you and you were lucky to survive.”

Winegard was 17 years old when he joined the forces. He  told the young, attentive audience stories about what it felt like to be in a Corvette at high seas.

But it was his parting words that seemed to have the greatest impact on the audience.

“We are all our brother’s keeper: that’s what it means to be Canadian - to be our brother’s keeper, and when people need us, we’ll always be there.”

Frank Taylor, a World War II veteran of the Canadian Army Corps, spoke about the extensive work required in his role.

Steve Nessner, a World War II veteran with the Canadian Air Force, talked about the first time he saw first-hand the carnage created by the bombing raids.

“We always flew at night,”  he said. “So we never saw the hell that the navy and army saw [directly].”

Nessner  then explained his ability to speak French and German sent him into the new territories in his post as a radar scanner.

“Flying in Germany, I saw the damage we had done and it wasn’t pretty,” he said.

Eleanor Freeman was 17 years old when women were allowed into the Army Corps, and her experiences had a great impact on the female students, many of whom came up at the end of her speech to shake her hand and offer her a hug of support.

“Women were not in the military when the war started and were not trained,” she explained. “When Churchill asked Canada for men, we said we didn’t have anymore, so he said, ‘what about your women’?”

Freeman explained her tiny stature posed a problem initially, but her ability to pass the tests got her approved.

“I said I wanted a man’s job,” Freeman told the audience. And that’s how she was recruited to be a truck driver, including driving the post office trucks and then an ambulance.

“The biggest thing was we proved to the men that we could do the job,” she said. “We started the liberation for women after the war, to show they could do it, too.”

Frank Bayne, a Guelph native, is a Korean War veteran. He talked about the ground warfare in the rice paddy and bunkers with a realism that caused some obvious discomfort for the students.

“We lived in bunkers, dug into the mountain. We lived with the rats, the mice and the ticks on the rats in rice paddies fertilized with human excrement,” Bayne explained. “Everything was fought at night.”

Bayne described the perils of fighting in the terrain, the threat of becoming a prisoner of war and the even some of the humour and the brotherhood of war, despite losing many of  his friends.

Michael Seitz, who has been a peacekeeper with the United Nations and was active during the Cold War, reminded students studying the time period that “although it was an undeclared war, it cost a lot of lives.”

Finally, bombardier Evan Shields, also a Guelph native and active member of the Canadian Armed Forces, spoke about his deployment to Afghanistan, where he worked as an artillery gunner.

He admitted to being humbled by the words of his esteemed panel members and thanked the students for their time.

Offering a new perspective on war, Shields told the audience, “In Afghanistan, the enemy dresses like everyday people. You never know who they are.”

The students asked the panel about issues related to post-traumatic stress, fear of death, their badges of honour and Veterans Affairs support.

Freeman’s parting words closed the event with a note of caution and hope.

“Please, please remember to be peace-loving,” she said.

 

November 11, 2011

 
 

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