Remember the invisibly war-wounded, says veteran’s mother

Lynda Shephard knows where she’s going to be on Nov. 11.

It’s the same place she always is on Remembrance Day. She’ll be wherever her son is on that day.

“I always go down and share it with him, wherever he is,” she said. “The first few (Remembrance Days) were very difficult for him. But they’ve gotten easier.”

Corporal Daniel Nish, Shephard’s son, is a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan. He enlisted in 2006 when he was 18 years old. He followed in the tradition set by his maternal grandfather who fought in the Second World War and his paternal grandfather who served in Korea.

He shipped overseas in 2010 with the Royal Canadian Regiment’s first battalion for a nine-month tour in the mountains and sand.

An aside: The nine-month wait must’ve been akin on some level to the first nine-month wait for her boy to be born.

Nish fought and did reconnaissance from combat outpost Ballpeen in Kalache Village in Kandahar’s Panjway District. It was one of the most attacked Canadian bases when Nish was there.

He celebrated his 21 birthday there.

“Which is not a pretty place to celebrate your birthday,” Shephard said.

She said she learned what she could control and all that she couldn’t control while her son was in a combat zone.

“It was very difficult,” Shephard said. “They’re so young and to see such horrors of war, it’s not like TV. It’s really awful.”

Nish had limited contact with his family while he was in Afghanistan. He’d call on a satellite telephone when he could. And email was limited for security reasons.

“It’s hard to secure the internet, right?” Shephard said.

Information gleaned from media coverage was probably disheartening for every mother with a son or daughter in Afghanistan at that time. And the limited communications likely compounded a mother’s concern.

But Shephard said parents in such circumstances accept a cold means to cope.

“I think it’s important to understand that, once they go, you understand you have to let go,” she said. “You’ll make yourself sick with worry.”

Nish’s family saw him off at the airport at deployment and, Shephard said, they told him to do his job and come home.

“Don’t worry about us,” she told her son. “I didn’t want him distracted by thinking that I was worried.”

Nish is now an electrician, safe in Canada. She said he’s made out all right after his deployment. But Shephard said others don’t fare so well after being over there.

“A message that I would stress is we need to do more to help the soldiers reintegrate when they come back,” she said. “They put their life on the line to serve the country.

“I think this has been a pretty consistent concern through all the wars.”

And that’s something Don Pitman, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129 in Haliburton, agrees should be a priority.

Part of remembering the sacrifices of soldiers is “to remember that there are people walking around that have unseen injuries,” Pitman said and cited the many psychological wounds that fester in post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Pitman said efforts are underway to develop programming and a safe space for those veterans to talk about some of their experiences.

“For a lot of them, it’s not easy for them to share,” he said. “There’s the wounds you can see, the missing limbs and disfigurement, but there’s a lot more wounds that are beneath the skin that are mental injuries. They need help. We have to help them find coping mechanisms.

“I think that’s an area where the Legions can step up and fill in a bit.”

Advocating for veterans living and maintaining the memories of those who have died is paramount for the Royal Canadian Legion. The educational aspect is one of the organization’s pillars, said Pitman.

There’s a youth and an education coordinator at the local branch. Their job is to get information into the high school and the elementary school.

“It’s an important piece of it,” Pitman said. “We don’t really have a whole lot of trouble keeping it alive. The schools locally are really quite good about helping us with it.”

As an illustration, Pitman cites youth participation in the annual Veterans’ Week every September. Senior students at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School placed more than 2,000 white crosses on the graves of the local fallen soldiers.

“It’s nice to see them participate and we’re always trying to think of new ways to engage the younger folks,” he said.

Pitman and his wife have been involved in the cross planting for the past four years.

“There’s a whole school bus, a load of (students) come,” he said. “This year it was pouring rain and they stuck it out. It’s interesting.”

Some of the students have grandparents and great-grandparents who participated in the First and Second World Wars.

“It’s their way to remember,” he said.

And remembering has an importance beyond recognizing veterans’ significant sacrifices.

“Anybody that forgets the past is destined to repeat it. And we certainly don’t want to do that,” Pitman said.

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times