This is my grandfather, Lieutenant – Colonel James Alexander McPhee. He was a smart, funny man who enlisted in the Royal Air Force at the beginning of World War II. When Canada got it’s own Air Force he joined that. He flew missions through the war, and it was only after he died that we found his log book and learned how much he had flown.
My Grampa had only spoken of the war once during my lifetime, and other than that, the only time his war experience was acknowledged was on this day, Remembrance Day. Every Remembrance day he would take me to the monument in his town and he would hold my hand while we listened to the service. He would stand there with the other Veterans, and my strong, handsome grandfather would cry.
I was young, and it was years before I worked up the nerve to ask him anything about it. When I did, he refused to tell me anything about the war, and would only say “All my friends my darling, all my friends”. After he had died we learned that he had flown times when he was the only one who came back.
The only time he ever spoke of his experiences was on the Remembrance day before his death. In fact, it was that day that we noticed that he was thin and ill looking. He was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly thereafter, and didn’t even live a year. He was asked to speak at my sisters school. He stood in front of an entire school of hundreds of kids, parents and teachers, and for the first time he told what it was really like. He told them about who didn’t come home. He told them how scary it was and he wept openly. He spoke of peace and of never forgetting. That day, at that moment I became a pacifist. My grandfather taught me what the word meant. Grampa told me that there had to be another way, because the way that we had done to so far was a waste and a crime. I believed what he told me. He died shortly thereafter, and he died believing he had seen the last war.
Today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I… like many other Canadians will observe a moment of silence. I will think of peace, I will honour the men and women who died to teach me the value of living gently on the earth, and I will take a moment for Lt. Col. James Alexander McPhee…and all his friends.