COLUMN: Whom should we remember on November 11?

For Louis, being called a Second World War veteran brings out a defiant rejection of any recognition the country could give him.

In his own private way, an old veteran just wants to be forgotten.

While Canada remembers its war and peacekeeping veterans and the fallen on Remembrance Day, for Louis, the date bears no significance, other than his wedding anniversary. As of tomorrow (Friday), he’s spent 70 years with wife Stella.

They’re both 91, quietly fading away in North Surrey.

They don’t bother anyone, and they don’t want attention.

For Louis, being called a Second World War veteran brings out a defiant rejection of any recognition the country could give him.

The man has never worn any of his six medals, never gone back to the old battlefields and never attended a military reunion of any kind.

Louis – who more than 60 years ago spent weeks on rain-soaked Vancouver Island guarding against a feared Japanese invasion with an obsolete Ross Rifle and no ammunition, who waded into “water up to your neck” at 3 a.m. during the invasion of Sicily, and who repaired broken-down Churchill Tanks with a welding torch near Arnhem, Holland – saw no heroism in the war.

Just soldiers, tired, cold, hungry and in physical danger.

“How many generals got killed?” he asks at his kitchen table, a cane at his side.

Louis recalls the poor-quality “free” cigarettes given to troops, the supposedly sunk-in-the-Atlantic parcel shipments from home ending up in British hands, and how visiting dignitaries at the time gave no respect or thanks to the men on the front lines.

Indeed, his wedding, which took place before he left the country, was on Nov. 11, 1941 during a short furlough in Winnipeg.

He got married at 10 a.m., followed by two minutes of silence with his comrades an hour later.

It’s his neighbour, Terrie, who will delve into the cold, the hardships, the loss of friends Louis experienced during the war, relayed to her at one time or another in the eight years she’s known him.

But Louis, private man that he is, does take the time to show a new visitor a collection of 18 small black-and-white photographs.

His fingers point to images of ships in port, Italian roads, Allied tanks (good Shermans, bad Churchills), Canadian transport columns, his welding trucks and abandoned German tanks and submarines.

It’s no history book, but a history book isn’t alive.

Louis is.

He’s one of the thousands of Second World War veterans that are, even if reluctant, still able to tell their stories to those interested.

The veterans who choose to stand (or sit) at attention at 11 a.m. tomorrow are free to express their pride for serving their country.

But even those who don’t, the ones who remain in the shadows, deserve our respect too.

All of the soldiers of the previous great war are gone now. Within two decades, virtually all of the men and women from the Second World War era who are here today will be gone too.

There’s a sense of guilt about asking Louis what Nov. 11 means to him – as if it’s a cliché.

His answer is pretty direct.

“Nothing. I’m trying to forget the whole thing.”

For those who have never met Louis though, remember him, if just for one day.

bjoseph@surreyleader.com

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