Silver Cross plaque destroyed by wildfire reissued in time for Remembrance Day

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Silver Cross plaque destroyed by wildfire reissued in time for Remembrance Day

In one of  her earliest memories of her father, Mary Cardinal-Sykes recalls running to meet him when he first returned to Fort McMurray after the Second World War.

She was five years old in 1947 and had rarely seen her dad before.

"And I still can see him," Cardinal-Sykes said, describing the army hat he wore and the duffel bag slung across his shoulders. "I remember him coming down the sidewalk, and I ran up to him and he just threw me up into the air."

Thomas "Tony" Sykes enlisted in Edmonton as a private and served throughout Europe in the Allied war effort.

Some photographs, her dad's uniforms, medals and commendations were all the physical reminders she had of his military service.

In May 2016, those artifacts disappeared when the Fort McMurray wildfire burned her mobile home in the Draper community and her brother's home in Waterways.

The Fort McMurray Royal Canadian Legion got word that the Silver Cross Mother plaque she accepted in 2012 on behalf of her family had been lost in the fire. So members decided to replace the plaque, which honours families of veterans, just in time for Remembrance Day.

The legion surprised her last Saturday by inviting her to the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre in Fort McMurray, where they gave her the new plaque.

"I was kind of nervous" Cadinal-Sykes said. "I couldn't talk. I had tears in my eyes more than anything. I couldn't thank them enough. You know it means so much to me."

Pat Duggan, president of the Fort McMurray Royal Canadian Legion, said his organization has been working with a number of veterans and their families to get medals replaced.

"It's gratifying, assisting people who are reaching out to find that connection with a former family member," Duggan said. "It's the tokens that you have from the memories of service."

Never spoke about the war

Commendations and uniforms sometimes tell families more about their military history than their loved ones who served are able to. Like many who enlisted and went overseas, Cardinal-Syke's father never talked about the war.

Except on Remembrance Day.

Sykes-Cardinal said her father refused to attend official ceremonies. Instead, he would sit in his arm chair with a bottle of rye beside him and the radio within arm's reach.

"And he'd talk and he'd cry," Sykes-Cardinal said. "But never after that. He'd never mention anything. He just kept it all inside of him."

Sykes-Cardinal said her family is working to get the rest of her father's military medals replaced.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.