By Lethbridge Herald on November 7, 2020.
LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
Lest We Forget. No, I’m not talking about losing car keys or forgetting where the remote control is. I’m talking, of course, about Remembrance Day.
On Wednesday, Canadians will hopefully bow their heads in a moment of silence for all those who have fought for Canada over the decades. Not only will we honour those who lost their lives in two world wars, but also the Korean conflict and in numerous peacekeeping missions abroad.
This year will hold special significance with the recent loss of my older brother. Grant and I were as different as two siblings could ever be, the dates of our births which exemplify how polarizing our personalities were. I was born on May 8, which was VE Day in 1945, the day the war in Europe effectively ended. Grant was born on June 6, which was D-Day in 1944 when the Allies established a beachhead in Normandy and began the long arduous journey to Berlin to free Europe from the grip of the Nazis.
From the earliest age, Grant was completely immersed in warfare. I remember him coming home from the movie “Spartacus” and regaling the family with Kirk Douglas’ exploits. In the room we shared, his dresser was always filled with books about war; he even had a copy of Mein Kampf. I, on the other hand, read the Hardy Boys and Hockey Digest.
I don’t remember him ever having any hobbies except driving around Raymond in the 1958 hand-me down Chevy truck dad gave him or on his Honda 90.
I, on the other hand, was always out with my friends playing street hockey or softball, riding our bicycles or bombing main, crammed into each other’s cars with “Ballroom Blitz” or April Wine blaring out of tinny speakers.
I don’t remember Grant ever talking about fishing with his army buds, or golfing or playing hockey, or doing a bonspiel. And I guarantee he never got smacked in the face by a butterfly while driving helmetless on a motorcycle in Minnesota while going 80 mph.
He simply lived the army life and loved everything about it. We were in Air Cadets briefly together and while I stayed after he left high school, I quit the corps in grade 9 even though I was the chief warrant officer. I’d done cadet camp in the summer and while I was lauded for my leadership skills there, I realized I could not live the regimented life of a soldier; I was just too independent.
I also had enough on my plate as it was, trying to survive in a dysfunctional home while focusing on getting good grades. There were many times I slept in the family car so I could have the energy to deal with school; I didn’t have the personal discipline, or maturity, to deal with the demands of cadets on top of that. I just wanted to be a kid and a good student.
I could have excelled in the military, but I was driven to go a different route.
Two sides of my family do have a long military history — the Whitelaw clan of which my great-grandmother Maggie was a part and the McEwen’s. My great granddad Jack McEwen, who emigrated to Canada from Scotland where he grew up in the Highlands, fought in the Boer War and voluntarily returned to service in the First World War, leaving Maggie with young kids so he could serve the Commonweath. I’ve seen a list of the injuries he sustained during his military career and Jack was one tough Scotsman.
Grant followed that path, serving multiple peacekeeping missions overseas in places like Cyprus, Egypt and Bosnia. He also served several years with the Canadian Snowbirds. Any conversation with him eventually ended up focused on the military.
Until earlier this year, he and I weren’t close — we had so little in common. But he contacted me on Super Bowl weekend and asked who I was cheering for. That began a relationship that grew closer as the year progressed. He and I talked or emailed almost daily this year, getting to know each other and gaining an understanding of each other that perhaps we both never had.
We truly became brothers again like we were as little kids until he suddenly died in August at the age of 65. The military life took its toll on my brother; he had lung issues from exposure to asbestos and his back was bad from so many years in the field. Before my dad died, he showed me a photo of Grant he’d taken while spending Christmas with him in 2018 and I never would have recognized my brother unless he’d told me who it was.
The military life is not an easy one — not on Armed Forces members and surely not on their families who must endure their husbands, wives and parents being away from home for extended periods when committments arise.
But my brother, like so many of his military brothers and sisters, made a choice to serve Canada and help protect our country. He sacrificed family life and his health to preserve the life we Canadians are privileged to have.
On Remembrance Day, my brother, along with all his fallen comrades, deserves to be — and will be — honoured and remembered.
Thank you for your service.
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