When I was seventeen I had an opportunity to travel with some of my class to Europe. The trip was organized so students could attend the 60th anniversary of D. Day at Juno beach. I remembered watching advertisements about the celebration a year before the events; I thought how amazing it would be to attend, but I didn’t think I would have the opportunity or the means to go to France. The school had never put on trips such as this before. But, through student advocating and some dedicated teachers, this trip was made a reality, and was incredible. There are so many moments that stick out for me, so many moments that made everything I read about seem more daunting than the books could relate. I saw the stakes on Juno beach where the men had to scurry off the boats. The bunkers that housed the guns. I saw the Canada Weeps monument. All these were awe striking, goose-bump giving, and life changing.
None of these, though, compared to the time spent at Vimy ridge. It wasn’t the tours through the tunnels there, or the dud sticking through the roof, it was the veterans. I saw a man get off a bus filled with other veterans. He moved slowly. His coat was adorned with medals and colours of all varieties, what these meant I didn’t know. What struck me was seeing him stepping foot on the ridge where he fought. Where he saw things unimaginable to me and felt things I couldn’t even dream of. This man lived through a nightmare?and came back.
I was struck by how brave he had been, and how emotional he was when stepping foot back on these grounds. He didn’t go into the tunnels, but stood at their edge and watched the crowd of people, the schools, and the Canadian tourists who came to honour them. I saw him cry. The memory of this moment sends chills through me. It isn’t something that can be captured on documentaries or movies. It was a raw moment, and while it only lasted a few minutes, it has stuck with me for over ten years.
On Remembrance Day, I think back to that day. To that man that I saw, to the other Veterans our teachers encouraged us to go and talk to. I remember their faces and how pleased they were to have us come up and ask them questions. I am a shy person. The thought of approaching a veteran seemed daunting, especially at such an emotional time. We attended the ceremony at the Canadian cemetery, and here my friends and I hesitantly approached a man. He spoke of his friend whose grave we stood in front of; he told us about him and how brave he had been. He seemed genuinely happy to have us there asking questions. His openness soon put us at ease and after chatting for awhile we parted ways with a hug.
Traveling to Europe for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of D. Day was a humbling experience. Seeing the land, walking the tunnels, standing on the monuments and reading names made everything I had read in text books or watched through documentary?s, (even Hollywood movies) real. I had had no idea that it didn’t feel real to me before; I didn’t realize the distance that the ocean put between my acknowledgement and comprehension of these events. So this challenged me and it changed me. When you read the years in textbooks, you understand it was in the recent past, but talking to those who survived it makes you feel just how recent it was. Watching them walk the grounds where they fought, where they lost friends, they are emotional and strong. They were the resistance. They persevered. They made Remembrance Day real.
Deanna Roney is an AU graduate who loves adventure in life and literature.