Delivered by the Honourable Greg Thompson – Minister of Veterans Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, a number of weeks ago the prime minister said that military service is the highest form of public service.

We are reminded of that in this House every day.  It is because our Veterans have served that we can serve here in this chamber.  Our Veterans are why we have a free and democratic country. It’s as simple as that.

We are the direct beneficiaries of their great sacrifices and achievements, and it’s why I feel honoured and humbled to rise in this House — on the eve of Veterans Week.

Our men and women in uniform forged this nation’s identity on the distant battlefields of a past century.  In the two Great Wars, in the Korean War, in military operations and on Peacekeeping missions around the world, our soldiers have made Canada proud.  They’ve made us proud.

Mr. Speaker, no one in this House needs to be convinced about that, about the honour and accomplishments of our Veterans and their modern-day colleagues.  When you look around this House, you see the Poppies proudly on display. Our Veterans unite us as few things can.

Regardless of our political stripes, or where we come from, I believe we all agree that our men and women in uniform are the best in the world.  They are the best trained, the most professional and the most disciplined.  And they have always committed themselves – 100 per cent – to the mission.

But, Mr. Speaker, we know that our freedom is not free.  It never has been free. The freedoms that we often take for granted have come with a heavy price for our country.  For our families.  For all of us here.

We have lost too many of our best young men and women.

As our famous war poet, John McCrae wrote, with every fallen soldier we have lost a Canadian who “loved and was loved.”

Mr. Speaker, we know this.  And we feel it deeply – in our hearts, and in our souls.  We realize that this great country we’ve inherited was built by ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things.

They did it for their country.  They did it for each other.  They did it for you and for me. And, of course, more than anything, they did it at great sacrifice to themselves.

We understand this.  We understand that our Veterans willingly stood in the face of oppression and tyranny to protect the values that all Canadians still cherish:  Freedom. Democracy.  The rule of Law.

That’s what we must never forget.  And we must remain committed to sharing this legacy with future generations.

It is this Torch of Remembrance that we raise so proudly each Veterans Week.  This year, the theme could not be more fitting:  “Share The Story.”

Not only are we encouraging our Veterans to share their stories, we are urging Canadians — Canadians in every region of this country — to take the time to listen.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, there are many stories to be told, and there are many more that have gone untold — one for each of our honoured Veterans.

I would like to share with you one of those untold stories. This past summer, while I was standing on the shores of Normandy with my eldest son, he began telling me about his grandfather’s experience – “my father-in-law’s experience” — during the D-Day landing some 50 years ago.

Mr. Speaker, I stood there fascinated as I listened to my son.  I was curious about the details, about the painful, brutal facts my father-in-law had rarely shared with anyone.

And I asked my son why I didn’t know this story.  “Why had Grand-dad not told me any of this?”

My son simply looked at me and replied: “Because you didn’t ask.”

Mr. Speaker, I know now that it is time to ask.  It is time to listen.  It is time to learn from soldiers like Harold Roderick.

Those of us who have never served, never worn the Canadian uniform, we need to take the time to understand – before “time slips away.”

We need only look outside, at the last few autumn leaves clinging to their branches.  With the slightest rustle of a breeze, they could be gone by dusk.

We realize this.  We realize there are only three known surviving Canadian Veterans left from the First World War.  We need to learn the stories of these remarkable men – all of them now well past 100 years old.  I’ve had the privilege to meet them, and they are as dedicated to Canada today as they were when they wore the uniform.  They are also our last living links to our Greatest Generation. We can’t allow their stories to be lost in history, or to go untold.

Otherwise, we can only guess at what our Veterans have endured for us, what they have achieved for you and me.

We can only wonder at the emotions captured in those grainy old films and black-and-white pictures, in those scenes of Canadian soldiers marching down our Main Streets, or waving goodbye from ships pulling out to sea.

We’ve seen the photographs of soldiers in the departing troop trains.  Their faces, through the train windows, are a mixture of sadness and excitement.  Their arms reaching out for one last touch of a loved one.  Sadly, for so many, it would be the final touch.  Those images, their lives, still touch us today.

We cannot bear witness to these individual stories without asking ourselves if we — if you and I, Mr. Speaker — would have responded the same way our Veterans did.

If we had walked in their shoes, would we have had their courage?

Where did they find the strength to leave behind their loved ones and their own dreams, and walk straight into harm’s way?

And as we seek the answers to these difficult questions, we must also pause to think about our men and women in uniform today.  Brave Canadians still serving around the world, in such troubled spots as Afghanistan.  They, as those who came before them, know the threats we face today are real, and the cause is just.

And just as in decades gone by, our men and women in uniform should know they have earned the thanks, and they have earned the praise, of a grateful nation.  Today. Forever.

Mr. Speaker, in a few days, we will all leave this place, and return to our ridings, to the people we represent.   There, we will gather, in our largest cities and smallest villages, side by side, to lay wreaths and to remember.

And in those moments of deep silence, we will renew our pledge to honour, always, the men and women who have given us so much, who have given us their very best.

Lest We Forget.

Thank You, Mr. Speaker.