Showing appreciation to veterans was the main reason for an event at the community centre Saturday.
“There are a lot of amazing veterans here who have done some amazing things,” said Allan Cameron, executive director of Veterans Voices of Canada.
In an interview Tuesday he reflected on the second annual event. “It was a great day, everybody had an amazing time meeting with veterans, checking out displays. I’m pleased with how it went.”
One of the highlights was the emotional and sometimes humorous speech by retired Master Corporal Paul Franklin.
“After everything he’s gone through he still has a positive attitude and a good sense of humour,” said Cameron.
Franklin lost both his legs in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan while part of a convoy transporting diplomat Glyn Berry who was killed in the attack. Besides Franklin, Private William Salikin and Corporal Jeffrey Bailey were seriously injured.
A medic, Franklin talked about living among Afghanis in Kandahar and helping them get a little better health care. “It was a neat experience in the city itself,” he said.
Remembering the day of the attack, he said they’d climbed a mountain two days earlier, then spent the following day, a day off, brushing up on their skills.
“One of the guys who trained the day before put the tourniquet on my leg and saved my life.”
After time in hospital overseas the three injured soldiers travelled back to Canada and the University of Alberta hospital. Franklin went through 26 surgeries over one month. Then spent 14 months in therapy learning how to walk again. He said he used to be a marathoner and do triathlon. “That’s one of the reasons I survived.”
“My story is the story of my recovery,” he said. Franklin also talked about changes to the way the Canadian government handles wounded soldiers and their spouses because of his experiences.
While he has a set of prosthetic legs, he said he doesn’t always use them because of the tremendous effort required.
“You have to accept who you are, what you are today,” he told the audience. “Everybody’s got good days and bad days.”
Franklin also said he doesn’t believe Afghanistan is a lost cause. “If you talk to the Second World War vets here today they’d say Italy was destroyed and they’d never believe it could be what it is today. Look at Korea 60 years later. It’s going to take time. It will be interesting to see but if you do nothing, nothing is going to happen so it’s good we are doing something.”
He received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd of about 150 people who listened to his message.
MP Earl Dreeshen and MLA Kerry Towle offered thanks to veterans and reflected on Franklin’s words.
Then students from Veteran High School were recognized for their part in a fabulous story. Principal Debbie Letniak said at a Remembrance Day assembly her students listened to Private First Class Dave Pennington tell stories about his World War II experience.
The students were inspired and during a question period they asked about his medals. He said they’d been destroyed. “The kids said he seemed to be sad about it.” And they resolved to do something. They secretly petitioned Veteran Affairs to get replacement medals. Veteran Affairs sent the school new medals at no cost and praised the students for taking the initiative to have Pennington’s medals replaced.
To the students it wasn’t if they’d get replacement medals it was when, said Letniak. When they arrived planning began for a ceremony to present them to Pennington. “The gym was full of the community. It was the most exciting day to honor a veteran at Veteran School,” she said.
Seven of the 18 students involved attended the event in Sylvan Lake and certificates from Veterans Voices were presented for all of them. Pennington was also there.
Also, during the formal part of the afternoon, Debbie Purkiss was presented with a certificate as Volunteer of the Year for the organization.
Cameron said another highlight of the day was Veteran’s Corner where a number of World War II veterans talked about their experiences. Among them were RCAF Spitfire aces retired Lt.-Gen. Don Laubman and Col. Doug Lindsay. Others included Fifth Field Medic Rudy Deutsch, George Braithwaite, a Lancaster navigator, Roy Foster, a flight engineer on Lancasters and Halifaxes and Ken Long, an RCAF Halifax bomber pilot.
The drumming duo Black Thunder provided a kaleidoscope of sight, sound and precision with the lights out and black light illuminating the movement of their drum sticks.
Red Deer Pipe and Drum Band also performed.
Members of the Penhold Air Cadet squadron assisted during the day.
First Special Service Force Reenactment Unit of Edmonton was represented and a number of military vehicles were displayed in the parking lot by members of Alberta Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
Chainsaw carver Darren Jones crafted an eagle from a piece of wood.
Cameron said there were a lot of people asking if the event was going to happen again next year. “yes … bigger and better” he replied, while also expressing appreciation to the volunteers who were “amazing”.
The event was also fundraiser for Veterans Voices of Canada and featured a silent auction. Cameron said after expenses they raised about $5,000 thanks to “really good support from the business community and sponsors”.