An extraordinary gentleman

On Nov. 11, Canadians from coast to coast will come together to pay homage and give thanks to some of the most courageous and brave...

On Friday, Nov. 11, Canadians from coast to coast will come together to pay homage and give thanks to some of the most courageous and brave Canadians – our war veterans. For many Canadians, Remembrance Day is an important and significant occasion, as it serves to remind us of the sacrifices our veterans made to protect the freedom and democracy that makes this country so great.

Mr. Charlie Fielding, 98, and a resident of Hanna, is one such special veteran. Charlie served with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the Governor General’s Foot Guards in Europe, as a Recovery Tank Sergeant. In his 29 years of service in the Canadian Army, four-and-a-half of which was the Second World War, he saw death and he saw suffering. And yet many of the stories Charlie chooses to tell focus on the humanity that was found in the midst of these trying times, stories of great hope amid incredible loss.

They are stories of the people he met on both sides of the battles and of the little children who were caught in the crossfire. Charlie’s effect on the community that surrounds him has been almost as profound as his contribution to the Canada we know today. In his younger years, Charlie and his wife Mabel made a point of educating school children on Canada’s rich military history. He is credited with founding the Legion school presentations in the communities of Cessford, Youngstown and Hanna.

During one of those Remembrance Day school visits a curious young student asked him, “Mr. Fielding I just don’t get it, why did they have the grandpas fight in the war? Why didn’t they make the young guys fight?” Realizing the children needed more information, Charlie assembled a huge display complete with pictures and memorabilia that the veterans began traveling with, in order to help the young students understand that the soldiers were in fact very young men and women when they so bravely served our country.

The sense of gratitude and pride that these veterans have towards Canada is awe-inspiring and an example that every young person should experience. On more than one occasion, Charlie and Mabel brought along fellow war veterans from Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 25 to talk to the school children and to instill the sense of what great value their service has meant to our nation.

With the honour and heart of a soldier, he said that the students gave him and the other veterans more than he and his men ever provided the students. Charlie talks about the day he was on his way home from Cessford after the annual school visit with one of his fellow vets, a tough, crusty guy. His old friend began to silently weep like a little baby. When asked what on earth he was crying about, the old soldier confessed it was the first time he had ever shared memories of his experiences in the war. And it felt good.

So it turns out that these school visits on Remembrance Day are much more than educational. They are also a chance for those that served to be recognized and remembered as an important part of the history of this country. Canadians like Charlie have always answered the call to stand up for our freedom and democracy.

While we formerly recognize the contributions of these brave men and women once a year, I truly hope we appreciate their sacrifice and our incredible freedom every single day.

On behalf of the province of Alberta I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to all our troops and their families for holding the torch of freedom high. Thank you. We remember. Lest we forget.