Call of duty

Canadian veterans' stories detail selfless sacrifice, struggle


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The lives of the men and women who served and are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces are a mystery to many Canadians.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/11/2017 (1961 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The lives of the men and women who served and are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces are a mystery to many Canadians.

Remembrance Day may be a time when family memories of what a grandparent or great-grandparent did in the First World War or Second World War are vaguely recalled. Winnipeggers over 30 likely remember the flood of 1997, when the army was deployed to protect the city from the raging Red River, but what else have our Armed Forces done? Jody Mitic offers readers an answer.

In his 2015 autobiography Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper, Mitic told the story of his life in the Canadian Armed Forces: the physical and mental challenges he had to overcome, the years of training he endured, his deployment to Bosnia, becoming a sniper-team leader in Afghanistan, losing his legs to a landmine and overcoming this life-changing injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Everyday Heroes is Mitic’s collection of 21 first-person accounts of life in the Canadian Armed Forces. He turns from his story to one “encouraging Canadians to get to know the men and women who wear the Canadian flag on their shoulders… to see beyond the uniform to the person.”

Read together with Unflinching, the two books create a full-fledged portrait of Canadians who chose to serve in Canada’s military.

These men and women are not generals or admirals leading an army or navy — they are ordinary folk from across the country, the backbone of our military. They decided on the military because of family history, adventure, a longing for structure or a sense of patriotism. Most are privates, corporals or non-commissioned officers; some served for 30 years, but for others, five or six years was enough and it was time to move on. The “citizen soldiers” we get to know in Everyday Heroes have served in an astonishing number of places between 1944 and 2016.

We meet a Lancaster bomber tail-gunner named Noel Shanks who died in May of this year. Shanks recalls a bombing mission he flew the morning of June 6, 1944; he remembers “looking down and seeing (troops) in their small boats going ashore… We never thought that this was D-Day.’’ Perhaps some of those men he saw were the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, who were the first to land on the Normandy beaches and suffered an 80 per cent casualty rate.

There’s Pte. Michael Czuboka of Brandon. He was deployed with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during the Korean War and fought in the bloody Battle of Kapyong in 1951, where his battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism. Czuboka became a teacher, University of Manitoba professor and author.

Peacekeepers faced danger in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Golan Heights and Cyprus, pilots flew into war zones in Syria and Vietnam, soldiers fought alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan.

We also meet military personnel deployed for other tasks. Michael Jain had been an infantryman, but in 1998 was a part-time soldier and a full-time medical student in Halifax when he received the call that Swissair Flight 111 had crashed near Peggy’s Cove, N.S. He suddenly became the pathologist in charge of identifying the 229 victims.

In 2014, Lisa Ouellette was told she was going to Sierra Leone to treat local and international medical personnel who had contracted Ebola. In 1994, Tim Isberg was deployed to Rwanda to work for Gen. Roméo Dallaire during that country’s civil war and mass killings.

Every story is equally remarkable, and every service person had amazing experiences that changed their lives — and, they hope, bettered the lives of others.

However, life in the military is demanding, stressful and dangerous, both physically and mentally. Some of the people we meet in Everyday Heroes suffer from wounds to their bodies and injuries their spirits but, as we learn, are seeking out positive ways to recover. Through support organizations to help transition to civilian life, such as the True Patriot Love Foundation, the Invictus Games and others, they are moving forward.

There are four large posters on a wall at Winnipeg’s Minto Armoury. They urge young soldiers to achieve, to lead, to persevere and to belong. The men and women in this exemplary collection lived these exhortations and are worthy of being called everyday heroes, even though none would claim that title.

Ian Stewart is curator of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum and Archives.

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