Wellington Terrace holds first ever Valentines For Vets event

As a Royal Air Force nurse in England during  World War Two, Ivy Taylor saw some pretty horrible things.
And at age 91 she can recount many of them with near perfect memory. But for her, none is as vivid as the story about the rosary.
Near the end of the war, a seriously injured soldier, who was no older than 20 years old, handed her a broken rosary.
“Pray for me,” he said.
The soldier died shortly thereafter, and though Taylor  did not even know his name, she never forgot his last wish.
To this day she still carries the broken rosary as a reminder of the young man, and all the others that were lost at such a young age during the six-year conflict.
“Since then I’ve had sons of my own,” she said emotionally as she thought of so many dying so young.
After the war, she married Canadian soldier Jack Taylor, of St. Thomas, and moved with him to his home town in southwestern Ontario, where she continued working as a nurse for many years.
Taylor’s was one of many stories shared at the Wellington Terrace Long-Term Care Facility on Feb. 14. Most of the 17 veterans living there took part in the Terrace’s first ever Valentine’s for Vets event.
Started in the United States in 1989 by the late American Newspaper columnist Ann Landers,  Valentine’s for Vets made its way to Canada in 1996. Every year since, Veterans Affairs Canada receives and distributes thousands of Valentines to veterans.
One of the Valentines handed out at the Terrace, signed by “Heidi,” read as follows: “Thank you for fighting for our country, for giving us the freedom to enjoy each day without worries. We will remember what you’ve done for us on this day.”
The cards are sent from Canadians across the country, mostly school children, to Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown and then dispersed randomly to care facilities from coast to coast.
“I thought they were really nice,” Taylor said of the handmade cards.
Nelson Bruce, who took extra care to not crease his Valentine, agreed. “The idea is very good,” Bruce said. “The valentines are great.”
A veteran of the navy, Bruce circled the world as a radio operator on the HMCS Ontario, a  light cruiser that joined the 4th Cruiser Squadron in the Pacific Theatre, but was too late to see active service in WWII.
Art Reeder, a radio operator for the Canadian air force in the war, also liked the idea of the cards. He told the story of how  he badly injured his foot during a landing that went wrong when the landing gear didn’t deploy properly. The foot still aches at night, he said.
On a lighter note, Reeder also recalled never receiving his commission because he was a self-professed bad boy, who was “young and full of life.”
Tillie Sargent served in the 9th Field Squadron in the war. He told an interesting story about a fellow soldier who after the end of the war ran into a German soldier he knew well from the Kitchener-Waterloo area. It turned out the young man, a Canadian by birth, participated in the 1936 Olympics and shortly thereafter married a German woman and moved to Germany. He was later drafted into the German army.
Sargent also spoke about times before the war, including what it was like in Fergus during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“It was so tough the Grand River ran only once a week,” he said with a laugh.
Gord Brown, a local historian and member of the Elora Legion, said he thinks the veterans really appreciated the Valentines from the students.
Brown volunteers regularly with the veterans at the Terrace, and said as they grow older events like Valentines for Vets become more important, even though their memories may worsen over time.
 He noted that there are not only 17 veterans at the facility, but also about 12 widowed wives of veterans.
Recreation worker Laurie Godreau, who helped organize the event, said she was “very happy” with the results.
“I definitely think we’ll do it again,” she said, adding she appreciates the help of Brown and fellow volunteer Tom Mainland.
It was perhaps Taylor though, who best summed up the day.
“Valentines Day is synonymous with love,” she said. “We all fought and left our loved ones for the love of our country and the security of our loved ones.
“Many are not here with us today, but we remember them with love.”
For more information on the Valentines for Vets program, visit vac-acc.gc.ca.