Veterans of recent conflicts find their own ways to honour Remembrance Day

Submitted photo. Serving in the Canadian Forces runs in the family for Prince Albert veteran Dan Delisle (top right). Also pictured is his older brother Calvin (top left) and his great-uncle Joe (bottom).

Saskatchewan residents will draw on some decades-old traditions when they celebrate Remembrance Day this year, but things are changing for how younger veterans celebrate the day.

Craig Owens served six years in Petawawa, Ontario and in Edmonton for 15 years until 2012 and then came to Saskatchewan. Owens did two tours in Bosnia in 1994-1995 and 2002-2003 and then in Afghanistan and closed out Kandahar in 2011.

Instead of attending large ceremonies, Owens said he usually honours Remembrance Day in his own way.

“I usually get together with a few people,” Owens said.

“I hang out with a lot of veteran buddies up in the Shellbrook area and stuff like that do a lot of hunting and get together with them and kind of stick to my group.”

Owens hails from the Dundern area. Around Remembrance Day he usually meets with friends somewhere local, like the Armoury, before heading north. While younger veterans may not be attending large ceremonies, Owens said they are a tight group that supports each other.

“We just usually get together with certain other veterans and kind of reminisce that way,” he said. “You get to go tell some stories, see who’s here, past and present. We’re getting up in that age group now in the 50s and a few people are passing away from heart attacks and other stuff like that, but you can’t dwell on stuff like that. You just remember the good times.”

Dan Delisle, a Prince Albert veteran and leader of a local veteran’s support group, said he also honours the day in his own way. Delisle said past trauma is likely influencing why so many younger vets choose to recognize the day in a quiet way.

Delisle said that because of trauma, some veterans have resentments toward the military and government. He said once they begin to deal with the trauma they get a sense of pride and want to come back again.

“We had so many people come home with trauma and for the longest time up until like only like four or five years ago, is when people started looking at it,” he explained.

“You don’t want anything to do with being recognized as a veteran and all that stuff right until you start dealing with it…. That’s what it was like for me for the longest time. I never celebrated until I started getting help and then I started to see things in a different perspective and different light.”

Delisle appreciates many aspects of the leadup to Remembrance Day. He especially likes being honoured as a Metis veteran by celebrating Indigenous Veteran’s Day.

“I would like to see that more recognized because that’s November 8 and it took until the early 90s for us to even get recognized,” he said. “There are so many Metis and First Nations and Inuit people that have served this country that have been forgotten about.”

Delisle served on the HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Athabasca and was posted at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. This Remembrance Day he has not decided what he wants to do.

“I haven’t decided if I want to reach out to the Sergeant Major of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. See if I can take part in their Remembrance Day they have, they’re usually always at the drill hall, they have something,” Delisle said.

Delisle is also looking at becoming a member of the Royal Canadian Legion as a way to encourage younger veterans to join.

“That’s what I remember as a kid: the Legion members were veterans,” he said. “Now, you don’t see very many veterans joining the Legion, and that’s what the Legion was designed for. Originally it was designed for veterans to have that camaraderie and meet each other and it just died out.”

He said it would be nice to have that camaraderie return for younger veterans.

“I’m looking into being part of that so I can kind of help see if I can put a new face to the Legion,” he said.

“I am in my 40s, but I’m in my early 40s. (If) they see somebody with a younger face being part of and trying to get this camaraderie, it might bring people out of in my generation out of their shell.”

Michelle McKeaveney of River Valley Resilience Retreat said she’s noticed many younger veterans are reluctant to be recognized, which means they often aren’t involved in Remembrance Day.

Submitted Photo Craig Owens

“They are not going to find themselves at the front lines of any kind of Remembrance Day (event). Some of them don’t even attend,” she explained. “They’re not looking for accolades and ceremonies.”

McKeaveney said many younger veterans are a humble group. She said many also are struggling to deal with their experiences, which makes them reluctant to participate in Remembrance Day.

“They’ve been traumatized in a way, and in some respects that they don’t want to burden the mainstream public or the mainstream media with what is in their brain and what they have seen,” she said.

River Valley Resilience Retreat offers a support group for armed personnel currently serving or retired, and frontline staff. It’s online on Thursdays and in person in Prince Albert on Sundays at 7 p.m.

Because Remembrance Day falls on a weekend this year, McKeaveney said the Resilience Retreat will find some way to recognize the day.

“When it falls into a weekend like that, then it’s up to us to honour it and recognize it in our small way,” she said. “We’re not attending a public service, but (we want) to at least teach the ones that are younger around us, or even some of the newcomers, why that day is important to us.”