Soldiers, like children, must one day leave the comfort of their security and head out into the wild blue yonder without their family. My time in the military is drawing to an end and I can see a road of uncertainty ahead. My usefulness to my country and my family is now limited to tasks and missions that I can undertake without causing pain or loss of energy due to my injuries.
My Soldier’s Mask has become tattered and worn, now resembling the texture of an old worn out leather jacket. There was a time when the mask was new, clean, hard, smooth, unblemished, undeterred by weather, war, or want. It was once a mask that showed no scars, no tears, and no worries, just raw determination and conviction.
But now it doesn’t fit so well, it doesn’t hide the fear, emotions, and hate that it once could. It can’t hide the strain, pain, and suffering that this old soldier now feels. There are holes in places that once showed a small hint of redness from blushing when a compliment was received stating how handsome the young soldier was; wrinkles are now writing a script in the corners of the eyes that once could kill with a glance, smile at children, cry with sadness, and burn holes with anger. There are now bags underlining the windows to the soul of the soldier, painting dark hues as if underscoring every painful event that had been witnessed by eyes that had shone through it’s openings during times of great despair.
It is now time to take off my Soldier’s Mask. It has served its purpose, carrying me through my welcome to Cornwallis and through to my retirement from the organization that I loved, hated, despised, and vowed to give my life for, the Canadian Forces.
I now prepare myself to put on a mask that I had been exposed to when I was a child, the mask of a man who had given everything he had to his family, his community, and his country: My Father.
The Veteran’s Mask is one that I never thought I would wear. I could never imagine being one of our Veterans that we see on a Remembrance Day Parade; old, frail, time consumed with the years that they had given to their country. Old men and women who gave the best years of their lives to us, only to be forgotten by our communities, government, and country, except for one day of the year when they don uniforms of blue and white and grey, smartly parading before an appreciative audience of spectators and children, most of the onlookers not even knowing why these ancient memories of service are marching in the snow and cold.
I sometimes wonder why myself. Yet they parade in freezing temperatures, causing tears to fall from their eyes with the sting of a winter wind. Or are those tears real as they think about past comrades and the lives they lost?
But as every soldier knows: Once a soldier, always a soldier. It was that attitude and determination that got them in the parade in the first place. What most spectators don’t seem to notice is that small package hidden in the pocket of the Veteran’s jacket, the many folds that it now contains; the many parades that had witnessed its appearance when it was new, shiny, proud, needed, wanted, loved, revered. Now it is soft, sagging, and worn, barely holding enough strength to make a timid rabbit shake with fear when it is placed on the face of this warrior of past conflict. However, it still reflects the owner’s dedication and determination to carry out the duties of their fallen comrades, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to their country. Those fallen soldiers will never leave a mask that will become worn out. They gave their lives for us. If you ever see a picture of a soldier who had died in the war, you can see in their eyes that they knew their mask would never change. God bless them all.
I now fully understand the phrase that I’ve heard on every Remembrance Day Parade:
“They grow not old, as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”