Veterans reflect on past, current climate on Remembrance Day in St. John's

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Veterans reflect on past, current climate on Remembrance Day in St. John's

Veterans reflect on past, current climate on Remembrance Day in St. John's

As the first note of the Last Post rang out across the National War Memorial in St. John's, the sun cut through the clouds and shone on the faces of the men and women standing front and centre.

A bitter wind whipped through the crowd as hundreds stood in silent solidarity. 

Echoes of ceremonious gun fire cut through, bringing with it sounds of startled children crying and dogs barking in the distance.

But the men and women most accustomed to hearing those thunderous cracks stood straight and strong.

Cold weather on Nov. 11 has never bothered William Saunders — one of the last remaining Second World War veterans in St. John's.

"I don't own a jacket," he laughed, his stern face turning bright for a moment.

At 96, Saunders would never consider missing a ceremony, his granddaughter said. And he would never consider covering up his medals with a coat.

Saunders was joined by Korean War veteran Albert Wood, who gazed out over the large crowd and beamed.

"It's a real honour. It's a pleasure," he said. "They recognize us."

Recognition did not come easy for veterans that served in Korea. For decades, Canada's involvement was referred to as a "police action," and the soldiers had to fight for their medals after returning home.

With tensions surrounding North Korea growing more volatile each week, Remembrance Day comes with a little more meaning for these veterans this year.

"I'm concerned. Really concerned," Wood said. "I wouldn't like to see anything happen over there again."

Aggression from the communist country reached a peak in 1950, when Kim Il-sung's army invaded South Korea with Soviet tanks. The United States stepped in to back South Korea, along with other members of the United Nations.

"It was to prevent World War III from happening," Wood said. "I thought we had it solved."

Now he looks at the world and wonders if any lessons were learned from the work he did more than 60 years ago.

"I hope it don't get any bigger," he said of the growing conflict. 

Listen to veterans, learn from the past: peacekeeper

Todd Jackson spent 30 years of his career travelling around the world with the goal to prevent the spread of war. Among his many stops was a 13-month stint as a disengagement observer between Israel and Syria.

There are many lessons to be learned from the battle-hardened men and women at the memorial on Saturday morning, Jackson said, especially with tension building across the world.

For some veterans, it's hard not to feel that tension when standing in a crowd, he said.

"We are being forced to look after each other," Jackson said. "In the military we call it S.A. — situational awareness. And everybody's has got to be up right now."

As the ceremony came to an end, Jackson made his way to the top of the memorial. He stopped to admire the wreaths and crosses before his feet.

He thought about the men and women who served before him, or are serving now. He thought about his deep respect for veterans like William Saunders and Albert Wood.

And he thought about how the world could be improved.

"It's important to ask questions because not everybody can listen," he said.

"Unfortunately with the state of the nation right now, or the world as it is, people are being forced to listen."