November 11, 2015

Lest We Forget

image © W. Russell,
Frederick Johnson
1939 - age 17
Each year, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we take a few moments to remember countless fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who gave up their lives for their country in one of the many, terrible wars the world has suffered. Around the globe, this day is known as Remembrance Day, Veterans' Day and Armistice Day, but what's in a name?

My dad was a veteran of the second world war. He lied about his age to join the army, but when it was discovered that he was only 17, he was sent packing. Not to be discouraged, he joined the air force as soon as he turned 18 and, as a rear gunner, flew on 21 different missions. His plane was shot down on two occasions, and in one of those crashes he was the lone survivor. These events were the seeds of what was then known as "shell shock", which for him, lasted for the remainder of his life. Today we know this as post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD -- one of the "invisible" illnesses.

image © W. Russell,
Mom and Dad
A love story during the war years
My dad spent over a year in hospital in recovery. During that time he met my mother who was one of the nurses tending to all of the "boys" in the ward of 32 soldiers. After the war, they married and it lasted for over 63 years, until we lost him.

Dad never once spoke to us about his time serving for his country. Any information my family knows is from the few things he would tell my mother over time -- sometimes while babbling and shouting during a nightmare, from which he would wake up shaking in a cold sweat. We, as children, witnessed this many times.

While Dad was in hospital those many years before, one day Mom had offered to stay after her shift to write a letter to his family for him, since he was unable. He told her -- not until over 60 years later -- that he had fallen in love with her that very day, because she was the only one of all the staff in the hospital who treated him as a person, rather than just another patient.

image courtesy
Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders Fields, Belgium
Your family likely has a story of love, loss, courage or compassion too, whether it is from long ago or a recent event. I hope you will join me in thanking all of those men and women who fought in any war, or worked tirelessly to care for the wounded. Let us never forget their sacrifices for our freedom.

Johnson family images © W. Russell
Tyne Cot Cemetery image courtesy

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