Lest we forget

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.

66 thoughts on “Lest we forget

  1. Thank you for that beautiful post. I will admit to getting a little choked up reading it. I can only hope that more people will grow to think like you do. As someone dealing with a self-proclaimed “war president” it saddens me to think that anyone would want to go to war. You’ve just given me all the more reason to appreciate pacifism.
    Thanks again,

  2. I grew up in Denmark, with parents who told vivid stories of life under German occupation. I grew up in a country that every year, without fail, marked the day the Nazis marched into the country, remembered the Holocaust and celebrated the day of liberation by everyone putting candles in their windows in a blazing display of joy and remembrance.
    Thank you to the men and women who sacrificed so much to make this possible.

  3. Prayers for you, for your grandfather, and mine, who reacted in much the same way, for my husband and other husbands and wives who have fought for their country. For my country, and for yours, which will likely feel the sting of any ramifications tossed upon the states. Prayers for the world…. we’re all in it.
    Thanks for your post today.

  4. A very moving tribute to your grandfather. Thank you. Today, Veteran’s Day, I remember my own grandfather, Nicholas Endre, who served in WWI in France as a muleskinner (!). My father, Donald Birren, served in New Caledonia in WWII. His brothers also served, one in Germany and another in the South Pacific. All of my mother’s brothers served too (5 of them). I think of these fine men today too. As an aside, my darling and ornery mother died 5 years ago today – and she was one of the many women who left school to work in the war effort in the early 40s, and went on to raise a big family with hope that none of her children would see the combat that her father and all of her brothers did. And, amazingly, none did. She was also a veteran of war and I’m proud to have known her and the other members of her fabulous generation.

  5. Thank you for sharing that. My first thought was that your grandfather was handsome in that Bing Crosby kind of way — a debonair style I rarely see anymore. I honor his service and his wisdom…more now, because we have not all learned that lesson.

  6. May we live to see the end of war. What a beautiful and meaningful entry for us all. I will think of your Grandpa, and mine, and all their friends today.

  7. Thank you for your post today. I hope everyone will take a moment and think of our veterans. Please tell them how much you appreciate them, or tell their loved ones because the family of soldiers deserve recognition, too.

  8. I hope it wont be inappropriate if I write some words. While reading this post I had to remeber my Grandpa. He also died before I was able to ask him about the war. He was also a soldier but on the other side. Nothing to be proud of.
    But as a child I loved him as a child. Not able to realize what he has been in. He never spoke of the war, never. When I reached the age to ask him questions he was confused and ill. So I never could geht his view of things. Only my Grandma told me, in his last weeks he was dreaming really bad and crying loud in the night filled with fear.
    I miss him for beeing my Grandpa.
    Thank you for your post and making me remember my Grandpa.

  9. My grandfather was one of the ones that did not come back. Thank you for the reminder about lessons learned, lost loved ones and appreciating those we have with us still.

  10. What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. My son is currently overseas, and today I realized that he too will one day be a veteran. And I realized that your grandfather and his friends were mere boys when they went to war, just as my son is. I always tended to think of the veterans as much older. The ‘ones who didn’t come back’ were boys too, who never got to reach their full potential. I will remember them all with gratitude today.

  11. I don’t have anybody lost in any war that I know of, but I’m horrified at how we haven’t learned anything. I’m sitting here with tears streaming, reading Steph’s post and everybody’s comments. Thank you, to all your Grandfathers.

  12. What a great post! Thanks for sharing.
    My grandfather was in the war too, and how fitting that his funeral was 14 years ago today.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing. My grandfather, as well as his three brothers, all fought in WWII. Each one was in a different branch of service. My grandfather served his country in the US Army. Like your grandfather, he never spoke of his experience much, but it was afer he and my grandmother passed away that we discovered his journal. He began writing in it the day he enlisted, through combat, and during his stay in a military hospital where he earned a purple heart. It was all at once the most touching, painful, and wonderful thing I have ever read in all my life. I miss him so much, and today even a little more. Thank you to all the men and women who served and serve today…and for reminding us how valuable and precious life is.

  14. Remembering my Granddad George Hare he served during WW1. (BTW he was born in Burgeo NFLD) Granddad never talked about the war either.
    Like so many Canadians I wear my poppy and I will never forget.

  15. Thanks for such a moving tribute. Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII, both came back…only to live such short lives thereafter. I vivdly remember my the first Remembrance Day without my Papa (I was 8)and from that moment on, I cry without shame (but with guilt at times) for all those who lost their lives (or parts of their lives)for our freedom. As a history major I continue to shake my head in amazement of how much we have NOT learned from our past…Hats off to all who have served or continue to serve our country…our land…our people.

  16. Very moving tribute, Steph. Every year on Rememberance day I am moved to tears by people’s memories of loved ones lost both physically and emotionally to the wars, but this year I am also saddened and frustrated by how little we’ve learned along the way. My moment of silence today, like yours, was spent thinking of peace.
    Thanks for sharing your Grampa’s story.

  17. Let us never forget. Let us Remember EVERY day, not only on November 11. My grandfather was a Vet. I was born in Poland. I grew up in Warsaw. Would my country of birth even exist if it were not for men like my grandfather and so many other vets? Now I am a Canadian citizen and I served time in the CF but I never had to raise the weapon I was trained to use against an enemy. But I am one of the lucky ones. My husband also served. He had friends killed; others lost husbands and fathers and brothers and sons… Just a few short months ago, a man from his unit lost his life in this latest senseless war! Will humanity ever learn?? Will peace finally prevail? One day… let there be peace. Let us never lose hope. Lest we forget

  18. My Grandpa was also in WWII. He was among some of the American troops who helped liberate Holocaust survivors. He has never spoken about it.

  19. That was really beautiful. My grandfather was in world war II and never spoke of it to me or anyone. After he died, we found a box of medals he had been awarded and some really beautiful things he had collected in Africa and around the world. It was so incredibly sad that he had done so many brave things and had never spoken of them because it was so painful. I am, at the same time, thankful for the sacrifices he and his friends made and also sad it had to be that way…

  20. What a beautiful and moving post. I wish more veterans would talk about their experiences. My uncle fought in Korea and has (as far as I know) never talked about it to anyone. It seems a common thing, this not talking, I suppose in large part because how on earth do you explain what war’s like to someone who hasn’t been there and doesn’t know?

  21. That was just beautiful. My great-uncle, who passed away recently, also fought in WWII. He came back and never spoke about his experiences until he was in his mid-80s. My husband’s grandfather was in WWII and never came home. It’s sad to think that the lessons they tried to teach about war weren’t learned by some leaders. Work – don’t just pray – for peace.

  22. Thanks for this post. My dad was in the Navy during WWII, but luckily was not in harms way during the war (as a Shore Patrol officer in Kodiak, Alaska). I have always been so in awe of how solemnly and seriously Canadians take Remembrance Day. Several years ago I was in Vancouver for a meeting on Remembrance Day and was stunned at all the lapel-pin poppies and the sober attitude towards the day. Americans could learn a thing or two about the true importance of Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc., from the Canadians (and the English too). Peace!

  23. thank you for this memory. My grandfather was also very reluctant to talk about the war, and it was only in University as a history major that I began to understand the depths of hell that is war. This is one of the reasons I love my job (teaching history) and I hate my job (teaching war).

  24. a friend of mine once pointed out that you an always tell that things aren’t going well when you notice that seem to be hugging yourself and rocking silently. I don’t remember the last time this happened to me but I was hugging myself, rocking and crying but the end of your post. My grandfather is slowly dying of dementia at the moment, he was a pilot, he never ever spoke of the war until his dementia set in and even then very rarely and only to my grandmother. He was a very very gentle and kind man and as his disease stripped away most of what we knew of him that is what remained, a loving, gentle, kind man. I am glad he doesn’t know there is another war.

  25. Oh, Stephanie, I read your blog every day, and miss you on the weekends. Thank you for writing so well, and for putting this stuff out there. Your grandfather’s story is moving… and a reminder.

  26. Steph, that’s the same picture of Grampa I have on my bedside table. I remember that day at school and i’m glad you do too. It was one of my proudest memories of grampa, thanks for reminding me of it. I’m off to have a little cry now.

  27. Having stood on the soil of Vimy Ridge, seen the monument and cried there, every Rememberance day brings it back to me, as the man that stood there in Vimy beside me has thaught me about what it means to be a Canadian by choice. Sadly his untimely death means that I must pay tribute for him too. Thanks Stephany for being you and for being expresive…..

  28. Thank you for that, Steaphine.
    I grew up in a country where war is the lifestyle of choice. Just today a friend of mine was arrested for denouncing it. Here I am, back in the US – and my taxes are supporting another war. You’re right, your grandfather is right – there has got to be another way. And you and I and others like us will MAKE that way, blaze that trail. And we’ll do it among other reasons, thanks to your grandfather, and other people brave enough to return and speak the truth.
    My insipiration since childhood is a picture of my great-great-aunt, who was killed due to war and prejudice. When I received that picture, I consecrated my life to the service of peace, so that fewer girls and women would be killed in war. It is my life’s work, and is torturously slow. But I am glad – so glad! – to have so very many others doing that work with me.

  29. It is tempting to think of this day as just a free day, free from school, free from work, free from normal life. Thanks for reminding us of not just the veterans but one special veteran. It is sometimes more meaningful to put one face to the day. I think of my great uncle who stormed the beach on D-Day. He never speaks of it. It is he that I have kept in focus for this day, a personal face that can be multiplied by thousands that have served.

  30. James E L Adams, Flew a Lancaster Bomber, died, 1992, having never spoken about his war either. His grandson (5) bought his first poppy today at primary school. To Peace in Our Time. God Bless.

  31. Thank you somuch for that beautiful post, Stephanie. Here in Australia WWII is still well remembered, and growing up I suppose I’ve equated our ‘ownership’ of it much like Vietnam to the US. My Poppi served in Papua New Guinea, and has lived for the last 20-odd years with a brain tumour as a result. His pride in his service is at times palpable, and here in Aus on April 25 (ANZAC Day) and Nov 11, the memories of the sacrifices our servicemen and women are remembered with tears and pride, and yes, some anger (esp in the current climate), but the memories are held, and there seems to be a resurgence each year of family member upholding their families’ memories.
    Anyhow, sorry to ramble, but your post made me think about how much we take for granted, and what I believe is the importance of never forgetting.

  32. Remembering my grandfather who lost a foot in WW1 – he would never, ever, talk about it, he lost his 3 brothers in that War too. My father came safely through WW2 – I am just so hoping there will not be a WW3.

  33. Thank you for your story of courage and kindness.
    Growing up in an occupied country during WWII these words mean a lot to me. The kindness of people around us and the courage of the soldiers who liberated us will never be forgotten by me or my siblings.
    A toast to all the veterans of war.To peace in the future.

  34. Steph,
    A truly wonderful story, thank you. I have Great Uncles who were in WWII and one specifically has not talked about his experiences. Although, his wife informed me that he has a box of medals that she has no clue about.
    I was in the Army, as was my brother, and another sister in the Airforce and as I write a daughter in Marine Corp Bootcamp. I know the reason I was in and why my daughter has joined. It is a sense of Patriotic Duty, to give something back to the country and people who have gone before us to make their lives worthwhile. If our Grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles, moms, sisters and daughters can make this sacrifice of their lives and their time why not me? What better way to honor their memories, their faith in this country and future generations?
    I wish for peace with all my heart. It aches with the losses we have all endured through the generations.

  35. My grandfather also served, in the First Hussars in WWII. I know very little about what he did, although I do know that he drove a tank and helped to escort the Royal Family from Holland. Among his war medals (which I have only seen a few times) he has a sombre reminder – an aluminum fork emblazoned with a swastika, that has teeth marks on the tines. He found it while scrounging in a deserted village for food. A powerful image of the fact that even what seems to be the ultimate evil has a face.
    On a slightly lighter note, he will no longer eat cherry jam since when they ran out of rations in that village the only thing they could find were vats of cherry jam – so they lived off of it for weeks.

  36. Most importantly…you did not forget. And I think your Grandfather would want us all to remember the generations of young men who lost their lives in service before they were able to have children and grandchild who would honor their memories.

  37. Thank you for the very moving tribute Stephanie. Here’s hoping for Peace On Earth, Goodwill Towards Mankind not just today or on December 25, but EVERYDAY!

  38. Thank you for sharing that…
    Today was a special Rememberance Day in our home. After going to the ceremonies the kids sang at at their school yesterday, I wanted them to know more about what they were Remembering. So today we gathered with hundreds of others at the Cenotaph downtown and took part in the ceremonies. Then I took them to the Veterans Cemetery for a walk… I am not sure they really understood, until tonight, when we watched a touching documentary on a Veteran who was held as a POW. Very moving, as were the old film footages of WW2. I think, at the ages of 7,7 and 12 they ‘got’ it and Rememberence Day will have some signifigance for them which is so important to me. Remembering reminds of us the consequences of War and the great sacrifice made by so many. So thankful to be Canadian today.

  39. What a beautiful memorial. My Grandfather also served in WWII. He was in the navy. My husband looked up his boat on the internet. They saw heavy battle at least twice a week. They almost sunk once. He came home, married my Grandma, and started a family. He never talked about his war experience either, until he started suffering from Lewey Body Disease (its like having parkinsons and alzheimers). In fact, that’s how we knew something was wrong. He was a brave man, and I’m glad I got to thank him for his sacrifices before he died.

  40. Here is Oz we wear our poppies too and we remember. In Gallipoli in WWI the Australian nation came of age. My Pop was there, and at the Somme. I grow Flanders’ poppies for Remembrance Day. In Flanders’ fields…

  41. They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.

  42. Wow, so many people with loved ones in wars. Add me to them – my grandfather was a WWII vet, and just passed away this year after 62 years with my grandmother and three kids. My dad (one of those kids) is a Vietnam vet. Neither of them talk(ed) about their respective experiences and I kind of wish they did because I think it would help me feel a little less removed. What I do here are things like “he was never the same after that…” I don’t suppose anyone is.

  43. Whenenver he was asked, my father had the same stories about his Army days in WWII. He said that the Danube wasn’t very blue when he saw it, that most of the houses in Germany had a bare spot on the wall where a picture of “a relative” had fallen, that Germany was in rubble but it was still the cleanest place that he had seen, and they had their first taste of fresh milk in years on the troop ship coming home.
    I’ve learned that this is typical of the true veterans. They don’t reveal much about their experiences, then they have silent periods.
    My father was born in 1922. He couldn’t vote, he couldn’t drink legally, but he could be drafted. He died four days after turning 65 and eight months before his planned returement date.
    Buried deep in a dresser drawer he left a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. That’s the story that he didn’t tell.

  44. My father-in-law was liberated from a prisoner of war camp in Germany by the Russians. They told him to wait for the Americans, but the prisoner’s ran out of what food they had before anyone came. He and a fellow prisoner walked until they caught up with the Canadian army who gave them Canadian uniforms to wear. We have a picture of my father-in-law (looking very thin) proudly wearing that uniform.
    He rarely spoke of his experiences, in spite of my constantly asking questions. When he finally told me about his liberation from the camp, he began sobbing. He told the story of meeting a woman who gave him food. He thought she was very old, but she turned out to be 18. She showed him her tatoo from the her concentration camp as explaination. He also spoke of finding a starving horse, cart, and american flag in an abandoned barn. He and a fellow prisoner were so excited they drove the horse and cart around waving the flag until the horse dropped dead.
    My hope on vetern’s day is that no one ever has to have experiences like these again.

  45. Oh my Steph, let us never forget – My father served in the Airforce stateside during the end of Korea and beginning of Vietnam, my husband’s brothers both did 2 turns in Vietnam, 1 as marine infantry gunner– and both of my grandfather’s served in WWII – and I watch my 13, and 12 year old and I pray and pray for the kids overseas – once again you’ve brought me to tears not from laughter but from the buried pain of all the men who left boys and came home not able to speak, and for all those who never came home. Please God, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

  46. Thank you Stephanie.
    When I was a small child, I used to sit under the kitchen table and no one knew I was there. So I heard things I probably shouldn’t have. On Remembrance Day, my Dad and his friends would sit and talk and remember. One fellow who helped liberate a concentration camp always cried. I think that the vets who were through so much only feel free to talk to others who were there and know what it was like.
    Barb B.

  47. it is becoming rarer and rarer for me to feel like a “young’un”… but my step-dad was not in “ww” but in a “v.” Vietnam. He was a radio operator on the ground. So he saw a lot of action. I know he received a Silver Cross and a Purple Heart, but I don’t know the circumstances of either. He doesn’t ever talk about it, other than to remind us periodically that he will never talk about it.
    My Grandpa was in WWII. He was Navy, and I have a beautiful picture of him in uniform, with my gorgeous Andrews-Sister-esque Grandma. That is all I know about his experiences. I now feel a bit inspired to find more out.
    Thank you, Steph for the great and beautiful reminder.

  48. Thank you for a beautiful post.
    My mother lost an uncle in WWI. She didn’t know him he died 2 weeks after he turned 17. He left Ireland when he was 16 to join the British Army.
    My FIL was in WWII. I never heard any stories. He died before I ever got the chance to ask him.

  49. Beautiful – my favorite moment in the UK is to be in the center of town for the minute of silence… it is truely aweinspiring and moving… and makes you remember like nothing else can.

  50. My grandfathers both were in the german army and were deployed to Russia, France, Denmark and Germany.
    My fathers father who had 5 brothers before war had none left after the war. My mothers father who was sent to russia and many times only narrowly escaped (And at last almost was killed in American war imprisonment because food and water, was far too precious for germans, HUH??) he always preaches the same as your grandfather did: You must know whay happened to stop it from happening again. Never let another person force so many young men to die for something they hate and fear. (Not all Germans wanted war….)
    Respect for your grandpa, and Respect for all grandpas who fought and survived or fought and died, what they ever believed in or not believed in.

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