I thought long and hard about whether to write anything at all about the recent murders of two of Canada’s proud soldiers by unstable humans who embraced religion and extremism as the final act of fragile and failure-filled lives. Is it my place to comment, to respond, to add yet another voice to the many that have spoken over the past week? I strongly believe that the digital pages of Vintage News are not a forum to rant, to admonish, to express emerging feelings or to open discourse on anything but the layered and nuanced world of aviation—its personalities, its machines, its culture and above all, its stories of innovation, courage and achievement.
In the past week however, we have seen an astonishing outpouring of emotions (anger, sorrow, pride) from all parts of Canada and from our friends in America and around the world. Before my eyes, I witnessed the re-emergence of words and concepts you don’t hear much anymore, but which we, at Vintage Wings, believe to be the very core of our message to the youth of today—Duty, Honour, Sacrifice. In our privileged Western world, our children grow up with everything they could ever wish for and a side order of entitlement to go with their wishes. The very idea of an unspoken duty which holds us all in mortal debt to our country and our people is the last thing youth are now taught—by their educators or by their parents. Sadly, duty is today just a word in the title of a computer game where avatars wander a fantasy world and dispense justice in the form of bullets. In our world, where celebrity is a flag that our materialist society rallies around, the concept of silent and steadfast honour is not generally manifest because it must, by its very nature, be in our hearts and not worn on the outside like a brand or persona. And then there is that word “sacrifice”. It has fallen so far out of use, I’m surprised it is still found in the dictionary. In a culture where everyone is encouraged to do what feels good or what they want to do, sacrifice is not part of the deal. I want that... but I don’t ask me to make a sacrifice to achieve it.
Over this past painful period here in Canada, these dusty and forgotten virtues are being talked about again, resurrected by press reports following the deaths last week of two Canadian soldiers—Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo—two soldiers who embraced these concepts without reservation, while the rest of us pursued our daily lives. These two Canadian men of honour were murdered by two others with mental health issues who chose suicide by terrorism as a way of finding meaning in their lives. Vincent was the victim of a recently radicalized young person who chose to use his car as a weapon, while Cirillo was summarily executed on the most hallowed ground in all the country by a drug-addicted sociopath, who wore the outer skin of his recently acquired religion without the slightest understanding of its inner depths. They succeeded in nothing save shining a light on the beauty, kindness and strength of the country that refused to give them what they wanted.
Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (left) and Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Photos via the web
The deaths of both of these men galvanized our beloved country like no other military deaths in recent memory. The death of Cirillo was particularly emotional and disturbing as it took place on what could be said to be the most hallowed ground in all of Canada—the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Canadian War Memorial. It was murder, it was cowardly in the extreme, and it struck a callous blow of jealous hatred at a place of national peace. It was, however, just the latest death in a long line of deaths in the line of duty that stretches in an almost unbroken line back one hundred years. The numbers are staggering—68,000 dead in the First World War, 47,000 in the Second World War, 516 in the Korean War and 156 in the war in Afghanistan. This does not include those who died in training, in peacekeeping missions, in the Cold War or first responders. This unbroken line of sorrow and sacrifice arcs across the abyss of time, linking the young Argyll and Sutherland Highlander Nathan Cirillo who lay dying on the steps of the Memorial to the death of the unknown Canadian soldier whose nameless remains lay buried just a few feet beneath him.
Cirillo’s and Vincent’s deaths were not the first, nor sadly will they be the last. While we were being emotionally eviscerated by the obscenity of the War Memorial attack, Canadian fighter pilots and ground crews were making final preparations for deployment to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Canadian military advisors may already be on the ground in the war zone. There is no doubt that we must now steel ourselves for a prolonged fight. Others will place their lives on the altar of duty to their country. Others will extend the length of that long line... for as long as there is a Canada, a country so beautiful others wish to smash it.
This new enemy preys upon the disenfranchised, the lonely, the frustrated—young people who do not in any way exemplify or truly grasp their religion, only the words, the rote expressions, the anger and fear. It is an army of the dangerously weak. Both individuals who murdered these two soldiers did so in cowardly fashion—a foot on an accelerator, a concealed gun pulled out in a holy place.
This is not the first time that Canadian men and women have been called upon to stand up to a fanatical, robotic, callous and murderous regime. In the Second World War, both the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army conducted themselves in the same extreme fashion, subjugating swaths of the planet, summarily executing all opposition and in some cases whole races and religions. Back then, ordinary Canadians, true Citizen Soldiers, rose up from their schools, farms and places of employment to take arms against enemies not unlike the evil that took out Cirillo and Vincent. Every family in the country gave up their Nathans and Patrices, 68,000 of whom never came home. At Vintage Wings of Canada, we attempt to remember these citizen soldiers every day, every flight of one of our historic aircraft, every event we host. Each of our aircraft wears on its sides the name of a young Canadian boy, like Cirillo, who risked everything to fight back the black storm clouds of tyranny.
Men like Flight Lieutenant Arnold Roseland, a Kittyhawk and Spitfire pilot, put down his thoughts of a future, and fought both the fanatical Japanese and Nazi Germany. He did his duty for three long years, but was shot down and tragically killed in France a month after D-Day. Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, a sweet looking boy from Trail, British Columbia, died in the closing days of the Second World War, pressing home an attack on a destroyer in Japanese home waters. Stocky Edwards started the war a Flight Sergeant at age 20, and ended it two and a half years later a Wing Commander... at 22! There are 16 such young men whose names give meaning and soul to our flying machines. So many more gave all willingly, sacrificing the 25,000 future days they were due. For duty.
The 16 men whose names are carried on our aircraft. Like Cirillo, all were in their early 20s. Top (L-R): William Harper, Stocky Edwards, Bill McRae, Arnold Roseland, Willie McKnight and Archie Pennie. Middle: Rocky Robillard, Harry Hanna, Tim Timmins, John Magee, Cliff Stewart, Larry Robillard. Bottom: Fern Villeneuve, Terry Goddard, Bunny McLarty, Hart Finley and Robert Gray.
If we truly wish to teach our children these lessons of duty, honour and sacrifice, perhaps we can start with a little sacrifice ourselves. Next time we think we want to go shopping to get something we don’t really need, we ought to take that money and donate it instead to a charity that supports our courageous men and women in uniform. Don’t just give that veteran a “toonie” for a poppy this year, reach deeper and give him or her $20, $50, $100. The poppy is worth only a few pennies, what it stands for is priceless—your freedom and safety. Maybe we don’t need to take the kids to Wonderland or Disneyworld because they really, really want it. Perhaps, instead, we should load the kids up and take them to Parliament to experience democracy in action, to visit the Canadian War Memorial where Nathan Cirillo stood guard for us or to visit the Canadian War Museum to learn the real price of freedom.
It is our duty to embrace and support young Canadians like Cirillo who are willing to step up and protect us from such madness. You and I walk the streets without the fear of menace and murder because of Patrice Vincent, Nathan Cirillo, proud units like the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the long line of sacrifice. They stand between us and mayhem, and if we think that’s overstatement, we need to think again. It is our duty to honour and pay respect to men like Vincent and Cirillo. It is our duty to lay a poppy at the place of their deaths, to attend their funerals, to pay respect at Remembrance Day. One would have to be a heartless bastard to not have felt deep emotion this past week in Canada.
But here’s the thing. We can’t just feel patriotic and sorrowful when the press manipulates us with bagpipe laments, pictures of handsome young men and of dogs pining for their master. The media will abandon this story for the next. We can’t wait until another beautiful boy is rolling home, down the Highway of Heroes in a long black hearse, to feel this way again.
It must be every day, my friends, every day.
Here are links to places where you can make donations in support of our protectors. If you are not a Canadian, there are similar places in all strong countries.
Military Families Fund
Ste. Anne’s Hospital Operation Dignity
Canadian Hero Fund
True Patriot Love
Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund