november 6, 2017

Remembrance day

Good evening.
I apologize for the tardiness of this edition of the Tiller.  I would like to have been able to complete it before Remembrance Day but it is a bit of a long article and I wanted to capture as much of the speech that Steven Gasser gave as I could.  The message is important and I wanted to do as much justice to the words as I could.
We started with the introduction of our guests, followed by the introduction of the Dinaround fundraiser by Richard Evans.
Dinaround is an event where Rotarians will prepare and serve a meal to other Rotarians in a club.
The other Rotarians will make bids on that meal to attend, and they will pay for the priviledge to make funds available for general needs
It’s a smaller but fun fundraiser.
So far we have 6 meals –
Elana and Richard Evans,  Nov 25
Darichuks Dec 1 or 2
Gary Bain and Joan Friday Feb 16
Gil and Nelda and Brian and Marilyn, and Nick
Sign up sheets will be passed around.
The money will be collected by him and handed to the treasurer to be used at the board’s discretion.
Cliff Tyminski  introduced The Salvation Army kettles – there is another opportunity to participate.
The last few years we did at Northfield Mall
Some people do it as a family, other folks do it with a friend, otherwise, sometimes if there’s a new member, they’ll sign up with an experienced member to fill the new member in with information about the club.  Many new members know about the club but they don’t know all of the services that the club provides, and all of the places they can help.  It will probably be between December 1 and 12.  Once the spots are determined, there will be a signup sheet.
Brian, who had a shift with Gary Bain, spoke of what a great opportunity is to see the best of Calgary.
Deryl introduced the guest speaker, Steve Gasser.
Steve has been an active member of Rotary for 8 years.  Currently he’s associate vice president of facilities management at the University of Calgary since 2008, taking care of caretaking, operations and maintenance, energy and utilities, and facilities information systems.  He graduated from RMC in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.  In 1992, he graduated from the University of Calgary with a master’s degree in Environmental Design majoring in urban and regional planning.  From 1974 to 1998, he served as an officer in the Canadian military engineers and we posted in various positions, both combat and construction engineering roles across Canada and overseas, and as an instructor with the military school.  From 98 to 2004 he was director of environmental services at the town of Banff, where he was in charge of planning, engineering, environmental, and operational policies.
From 2004 to 2008, he was appointed assistant deputy for the minister of Public Works in the Yukon, where he was responsible for all property management throughout the territory.  He is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and Rotary International.
Remembrance day has a special meaning for Steven.  He’s been in every Remembrance Day parade since he joined the forces at 18.  He wants to talk about some of the meanings, the history, and the traditions of why things happen the way they do.
Remembrance day began as Armistice day after world war I.  Being part of the British empire we follow behind the British.  It was the second Monday in November, so it collided with Thanksgiving.  There wasn’t much going on beyond veterans and families convening in various locations after World War I.  There was a large number of individuals and veterans pushed for greater recognition so in 1931, the government created Remembrance Day on November 11, and moved Thanksgiving to October.
Remembrance day rejuvenated the interest in recalling the war and military sacrifice.  It attracted thousands of people to the ceremonies.  A lot of the cenotaphs that occur across the country were built right after world war 1, although many were also constructed after world war II, in honour of the fallen, to remember the horror of war, and to embrace peace.
Remembrance day took a resurgence in 1995, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war, and continues to be important with our involvement in Afghanistan.  Most families were impacted by someone who served in Afghanistan or the other conflicts that have been happening in recent history.
During the First World War, the poppy became a powerful symbol of remembrance.
The poppy is associated with the military far longer than world war I.  The flowers grow on mass graves going all the way back to the Napoleonic era. 
During WWI, the bombardment completely disrupted the landscape.  The chalky soil that resulted was ideal for poppies, so there would be huge fields of poppies growing during and after the first world war, which is why the poppy has become the symbol for Remembrance. 
The poppy is worn on the left lapel, closest to your heart, to remember and recognize the sacrifice of our military heroes.  They were initially made by disabled veterans.  Proceeds of sales go towards veterans needs such as the poppy fund, and the Calgary Food bank.
John Mcrae was born in Guelph Ontario.  He served as a gunner in the Boer War.  He was then a professor of medicine and a physician at McGill University in Montreal.  He enlisted quickly in the first world war, hoping for a position as a gunner, but doctors were in extremely short supply, so he accepted a job as an appointment as a surgeon in the artillery brigade.  In the battle of Ypres in April 1915 he spent 17 days caring for wounded, performing surgery on Canadian and allied troops.  He was exhausted and saddened by the death of a very close friend.  He composed Flanders Fields during a brief rest.  The poem was published on the 8th of December 1915 in Punch magazine, which was World War I’s principal document to get information to the troops.  It was a printed newsletter that everybody received, and it quickly spread throughout the entire allied forces, then the world, and became famous.  Even though Mcrae had become an instantly recognized poet, he continued to serve as a surgeon.  He served in a number of Canadian military hospitals during the war, pushing himself and his staff hard.  He was often sick because of the workload he was undertaking.  He succumbed to pneumonia on the 28th of January, 1918 and is buried in Wimereux Cemetery, just outside Boulogne.
In 2015, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the poem, Leonard Cohen read In Flanders Fields.  This is the link:
Cenotaphs are statues or structures erected to commemorate the war dead and veterans of military operations.  The word cenotaph comes from the Greek – kenos, or empty, and taphos, or tomb.  So a cenotaph is an empty tomb.  They date back to Ancient Greece.  Our best known cenotaph is the national war memorial.  Its title is “The Response”.  It’s a tall granite memorial arch with bronze sculptures that are coming out of the statue. It was originally built to commemorate those killed in the first world war.  In 1980, it was rededicated to include those killed in the second world war and Korea, then in 2014 it was rededicated to include those killed in the Boer War, and the war in Afghanistan as well as all other Canadians killed in any conflict, past, present, and future. It is the pre-eminent backdrop to the televised broadcast of the broadcast ceremony. 
There are 76 other cenotaphs across the country.  The tomb of the unknown soldier was added to the front of the memorial, symbolizing the sacrifice of Canadians who have died or may yet die in service of their country.
Wreaths are a Greek and  Roman tradition.  They wove Bay Laurel tree leaves into wreathes to be worn as crowns by victors of sporting events like the Olympics, or military campaigns.  Since then, the foliage of the Bay Laurel tree have been symbols of victory and death.
The unknown soldier was originally intended to represent all war dead whose remains have not been identified.  That was a common problem during static world war battlefields, with all of the artillery and mud and holes.  Since 1920 a single unknown soldier has laid at London’s Westminster Abbey representing all of the unidentified war dead of Canada and other commonwealth states.  France and the US followed Britain’s example in 1921, and so did other countries.  In 1993 Australia marked the 75th anniversary of World War 1’s end by repatriating the remains of an unknown soldier.  In 2000, Canada followed suit.  A single set of remains was selected from the 6,846 unknown soldiers from the first world war, and returned to Canada.  The unknown soldier came from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge.  He was flown home to lie in state in the hall of honour in the centre block of parliament from the 25th of May to the 28th of May 2000, then buried on the afternoon on the 28th of May in a nationally televised event.
One of the things that’s happening and has happened since the soldier was laid there is that people have taken off their poppies and placed them on the tomb of the unknown soldier as a sign of respect.  This has become a tradition across the country where people place their poppies on cenotaphs.
This year is the 100th anniversary of 3 significant battles; Vimy Ridge, 9th to 12th April of 1917.  It was an important symbolic piece of Canadian history as it’s the first time the Canadian corps fought together.  In the past we had always fought under British elements and British generals, and it was the first time we fought under a Canadian general with all of the corps together. Over 100,000 Canadians fighting with and for a Canadian general.  That was the birth of our nation, under our own direction with our own planning, we succeeded in taking over a ridge that 3 other countries had tried for over 2 years to take, and we took it. 
Also at that point in time, the Germans started calling us Shock troops, and they were beginning to get really scared because Canadians were beginning to get organized.  They’d done a lot of practicing in the trenches and were very good at night fighting and patrols, going in and extracting people or taking them out in the middle of the night.  They got worried about Canadian troops. 
Then in August, the whole front had stalled, and the allied forces commander realized that Canadians were doing very well.  He ordered us to attack the town of Lens.  Rather than do that, Sir Arthur Currie decided to take hill 70, which is a high point right behind the town.   They fought up the hill, took the high ground, fought off 21 counter attacks over a 4 day period.  Then they went into the town of Lens and took it over.  It showed creative thinking, good training. 
The same thing happened in Passchendaele.  No country had been able to Passchendaele so they moved the Canadians up on the 26th of October, and they fought until mid November.  Passchendaele became symbolic and famous for the terribly costly fighting, and for the mud.  The photos of the shell craters that typify WWI photos, are frequently photos from Passchendaele.  The movie Passchendaele gives an accurate depiction of what went on at that time. 
In Passchendaele the water table was within a metre of the ground surface.  Whenever a shell went off, it created a huge hole that filled with water immediately.  Soldiers that were moving had to lay down duck boards, the wooden planks that they walked on.  If they stepped off of the duckboards, they would fall into a hole and drown.  More people drowned than died of their wounds.
2 minutes of silence is the same as flying a flag at half mast.  It’s a gesture of respect, mourning those who have died recently or as part of a tragic historical event.  We in the commonwealth have gone to 2 minutes of silence on November 11th,  and recognizing the sacrifice of our armed forces and civilians in times of war.  You’ll hear the last post, which starts the 2 minutes of silence, and ends with Reveille.  The last post was the traditional bugle call sounded at the end of the day to let soldiers know that they should be inside their quarters at the end of the day.  If they were caught outside their quarters they would be punished.  So they were being called home.  It is also sounded at funerals and commemorative events to communicate that a soldier has completed his service and is entitled to his or her rest.
Steven joined the army in 1974.  He started at Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, BC.  That was general engineering.  At the time Royal Roads didn’t graduate engineers so he moved on to RMC, where he completed 3 more years.  He graduated in 1979.
In the summertime, they did their military planning.  He wanted to be a helicopter pilot but didn’t have the eyesight.  But in the summers of 1976 and 1977 in  Portage La Prairie, he was doing flight training on the Musketeer.  The first year was basic flight, the second year was aerobatics.
He had the opportunity to go to Germany for some on the job training, where he got to fly t-33’s and CF-104’s. 
When he was washed out, because he had a civil engineering degree they offered him an aeronautical engineering job, but he declined as it was nothing to do with civil engineering. 97% of military engineers are civil engineers, as you’re trying to determine how to build roads and bridges, or determine how to blow them up.  They also look after facilities and installations.
His first posting was in Quebec.  They asked the class of graduating engineers who wanted to go to Quebec.  He volunteered because he wanted to be become bilingual.  He spent 3 years in Quebec, immersed in the French language.  He started off as intelligence officer, then second in command of the support squadron, and then troop commander.  He was placed in charge of the troop that had the diving specialties, so he did his army diving course in Esquimalt and became certified as an underwater diver.  Everything that an engineer does above the ground he could now do below the water.  He could put in mines, take them out, blow up bridges, do reconnaissance for amphibious crossings. 
One of the most exciting things he got to do was a 2 week exchange with the underwater demolition team 21, which is a precursor to the Seals teams.   A lot of information was exchanged.
During that posting he volunteered for a UN duty in Cypress.  His role was to ensure that infrastructure was working.  There were observer posts all along the green line as well as  section and platoon housing where people would be rotated in and out.  Steven’s job was to ensure that all of the posts weren’t having any trouble and that stuff was getting fixed and there weren’t any problems.
Other postings include CFB Edmonton as an engineering officer when it was an air base with 5 operational squadrons. He went back to school as a tactics instructor, and ultimately as a training coordination officer.  He went to Maritime Command headquarters and looked after all of the master plans for the navy military bases and ran the capital construction program for 3 years. 
From there he went to CFB Shilo as the base engineer, looking after the infrastructure there.  He then was posted as Deputy Commanding Officer in Moncton, NB, where he was tasked to lead a specialist engineering unit in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Steven gave some detail as to the type of work that he did in Bosnia and the specialized work that they did there, including building bridges overtop of bombed civilian bridges, and reconstructing a medical facility at the University of Sarajevo.  The roofs had been bombed, windows blown out, the wiring had been stolen, but they were still graduating 100 medical doctors every year because there was a dire need for doctors.   This is the good that our military does.
Thanks, Steven, for a moving speech.  
My parents survived Holland during the second world war, and moved with their families to Canada shortly after.  I am in the unique place where, if I went back to Holland, I'd be celebrated as one of the people who brought freedom, and as one of the people who received it.  It feels strange.  But as a person of dutch heritage, I am thankful. I did lose a lot of my ancestors in camps, and have heard some terrible stories.  I didn't bring freedom, and I didn't sacrifice my life for strangers that I would never meet.  I am thankful for those that did.
And I am thankful for those that continue to  give or risk their lives to make sure that there will be another person like me in the next generation that will have the same opportunity to be thankful.
Thank you.
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Next Meeting: Monday, November 20th at The Village Park Inn, main floor.    
Club Information
Welcome to the Rotary Club of Calgary North.
Calgary North
We meet Mondays at 12:00 PM
Village Park Inn
1804 Crowchild Trail NW
Mail: Suite 199, 130 - 5403 Crowchild Trail NW
Calgary, AB  T2E 0B4
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LEARN MORE: Contact Membership Director Gerry Darichuk at   403-239-1718
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