The newspaper headlines, now faded and yellowed with age, read ‘Germany Defeated.’
The story goes onto say “unconditional surrender terms signed at 2:41 a.m. May 7. Hostilities ceased at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time, May 8.
Surrender ratified in Berlin.
The story is written in a local newspaper. The date is May 9, 1945.
Every year about this time, I re-read this story. And every year, as I pin a blood red poppy to my jacket, I feel humble, proud and grateful simply because I can.
It is almost time, once again, for Remembrance Day. Poppies. Blood red symbols of what went on before. Lest we forget.
Part of my job as a reporter is interviewing veterans. Humbly asking them to reach into the past and shake off the dust of memories that have stayed undisturbed for year.
They are gentle, kind, and mellowed with age, these veterans, grandfathers, great grandfathers. And sometimes, if I’m very lucky they will talk to me.
And in the telling, they allow me to go there with them, to no man’s land, to places where fear lived hand in hand with courage.
And as they take me with them to those long ago days where theirs was a nameless face among thousands of other nameless faces who fought on the front lines, in the trenches and stared death down face to face, there is always an invisible thread of pride woven into the pictures they paint.
Fierce. Unwavering. Strong.
The guns are silenced now. The uniforms have long since been packed away.
But etched deep inside, the memories will never die.
The short life story of one such war veteran holds special interest to me because we shared the same birth father.
I never met him, but I have read and re-read his diary.
Richard Wellington Warden was killed March 9, 1944 during a night take-off on the east/west runway at RAF Station Einshmer, five miles east of Hader, Palestine. He is buried in the Khayt Beach War Cemetery, Israel. He was 21 years old.
I think about him sometimes, especially now, as Nov. 11 rolls around again.
I think about the entries he wrote in his diary.
He didn’t write about war, or medals or honor or even being afraid.
He wrote about girls. Buddies. The thrill of flying.
Mostly he wrote about coming home. That’s really all he wanted. He didn’t want to be in a stinking war where the stench of the dying that littered the battlefield threatened to choke those who were living still.
He wanted to be home – to smell the fragrance of spring, taste the sweetness of his girl’s kiss, hear his brother’s laughter, see the smoke curling out of the chimney of the old farm house.
But he never came home.
“We regret to inform you,” the telegram said. “Your son lost his life during flying operations at 2 a.m. on March 9, 1944.
The telegraph my father received that day brought the grim reality of war to a little Alberta town where the first crocuses of spring were just beginning to peak through the brittle white crust of winter snow.
I think about that young man and how history, with maddening regularity, seems to repeats itself. I think about the young men and women who have died in Afghanistan. And I think about the wives and husbands and parents who wait.
And, this year once again, I pin a blood red poppy on my jacket.
Lest we forget. How can we?
— On The Other Side