Randy Leonard began his passion project 10 years ago when he watched seven banners he commissioned, showcasing the names and faces of area veterans, including his father, erected along Main Street, near the Woodstock cenotaph.
A decade and more than 100 banners later, Leonard’s passion for honouring those who sacrificed so much for their nation remains as strong.
For Leonard, a Woodstock councillor and former mayor, the drive to learn more about Canada’s war history and the exploits of area veterans began as a child. His father was one of five brothers who saw action in the Second World War.
While all five witnessed the horrors of war firsthand, including his uncle, a prisoner of war in Germany, Leonard said his family was luckier than many.
“All five boys came home,” he said.
Leonard said his family also sacrificed during the First World War. He points to the name of Bernard Saunders on the Woodstock cenotaph. From his mother’s side of the family, he said the uncle died long before he was born, but somehow he feels a close bond.
He said Saunders was gassed at Sommes and severely injured but was shipped home, where he died in 1920.
“He’s buried in the cemetery on Broadway,” Leonard said.
With another 20 new banners added this year, Leonard said, by early November, the special tribute to veterans will adorn polls along Main Street from Woodstock town hall, through the downtown, to the southside of Main Street beyond St. Gertrudes Church.
He said some banners would stretch a short distance on Connell Street.
While Leonard championed the banner project himself for the past decade, he said, none of it would be possible without the assistance of Woodstock’s public works crews, who hang the banners for him.
Leonard said he met with public works officials on Tuesday, who said crew members would begin hanging the banners near town hall late this month. He said the downtown banners will wait until after Halloween to ensure they are not damaged.
“There are so many now, the crews have to get a head start,” he said.
Leonard also extended his appreciation to Gary Keenan of K-Line Construction, noting that he will provide the metal hangers needed to hold the new banners for the second year.
In addition to paying tribute to the region’s war heroes, Leonard said, the banners provide a chance to pass along history to a younger generation.
He said he loves watching families looking at the banners together.
“For me, I want people to look at these with their children and grandchildren,” he said.
Leonard said he enjoys talking to the families as they provide information for a new banner.
“I hear stories I never heard before,” he said.
The Woodstock Remembrance banners honour veterans from the two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan.
Leonard said the banners include veterans with family connections to the greater Woodstock area, including 16 banners honour Woodstock First Nation veterans.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun