My folks were part of the “Greatest Generation” who suffered through the Great Depression and then picked up arms to fight in World War II. My Dad joined the navy when he was seventeen and fought in the Pacific Theatre. He retired in 1950 and became a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), an organization similar to the Legion except members had to serve during war time overseas. When my Dad died in the late 1990’s he was given full military honours by the VFW and Mom was presented with his flag. Mom decided that the flag should remain at the Post’s Wall of Flags along with Dad’s fellow Veterans and that is where it has remained for the past seventeen years.
A few months ago we learned that, like many of the American and Canadian Legion Posts, my Dad’s VFW Post had lost too many members to continue and they were selling the building and wanted to know if we wanted Dad’s flag?
Of course we did and it then became a question of how to acquire it? They were prepared to mail it, but after some discussion with my wife we decided to go and get it and thus our journey to get the flag began.
Now that may not sound earth shattering, except I grew up in a small town in New England and we decided to drive all the way! Like my Dad, I left home when I was 17, not to join the military, but to get a college education and I began my post-secondary education in New Mexico. From that time on, most of my trips back home were by car. Life takes some funny turns, and before long, I was teaching in Canada and five years later became a citizen with a wife and two children. We would try different routes every time we went to visit my folks and our children got quite an education when they were young. They have seen the Great Lakes from both sides of the border, saw where Terry Fox ended his run, been to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace, gone on whale watching excursions, been deep sea fishing, explored Jewel Cave, and had numerous other opportunities to see the vastness and greatness of both Canada and the USA thanks to where my parents lived.
So in mid May my wife and I thought it would be a good time to take one last drive and retrieve my Dad’s flag. Since both my parents had died, we didn’t feel the urgency to rush our trip, the flag wasn’t in any hurry so why should we? We stopped in Minneapolis and took in a baseball game, stopped at Cooperstown and toured the Baseball Hall of Fame, and landed in my home town six days after leaving Leduc. We arranged to pick up the flag and met up with a few old friends and relatives and it was then when I began to notice a number of things that made me glad that I had become a Canadian.
One of my cousins is 77 years old and we ran into her at a store where she worked for over 40 years and she was at work! Another cousin is 67 and he is a captain of a fishing vessel and goes out each day to fish, partly because he loves fishing, but mostly because he has too! Americans do not have a national pension plan like Canada. They have what they call Social Security which really is like our OAS. For most Americans it is rarely enough to make ends meet. It seemed no matter where we went there were people long past their retirement age working to keep a roof over their head. At the grocery store, behind the desk at our hotel, in the restaurant we ate, and the clerks at the stores we visited all had senior citizens as part of their staff.
We spent three days in my hometown, went on a whale watch, visited my folks final resting place, saw a beautiful sunset settle into the ocean. My hometown is one of the few places on the east coast where you can watch the sunset into the Atlantic Ocean. We picked up my Dad’s flag and said our goodbyes then headed for Boston and a Red Sox game and watched, to the delight of my wife, the Blue Jays defeat Boston.
From there it was time to head for Nashville. My wife has always wanted to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and since she had indulged me my baseball wishes it was only fair that she be granted her wish, besides I had become a country western music fan due to her influence. Once again we noticed how many seniors were working behind counters. It was becoming oblivious that it was a norm, not something that occurred only in a tourist area with a short economic season.
I began to think about my Dad and how he and his fellow veterans who fought so their children would have a better life and now that their children are reaching their senior years, their lifestyle isn’t much different that those who grew up during the Depression years!
After Nashville we headed for South Dakota and Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately we never made it. The day before our planned arrival, my wife twisted her back and the pain was so bad we called 911 and discovered some unsettling facts about the American medical system. First was the 53 mile (80K) ambulance trip to the nearest hospital and then the five hours in the emergency ward. The medical people were first rate for what they were able to do and the record keeping is second to none. However, the EMTs were restricted in what they could do as they were not allowed, under any circumstances, to administer medication. Can you image what it was like to travel 80k’s over bumpy roads with a very painful back without medication to relieve the pain? The day this occurred was Memorial Day in the US and the hospital was swamped. This resulted in my wife being monitored by a nurse located 320 kms away by remote TV for an hour. The medical staff is required to record everything done on computer as they are doing it, which results in them spending as much time on the computer as they do with patients. After a dozen or so x-rays and a few shots of pain killer medication we were back on the road the next day headed for home.
People may complain about the Canadian health system, but after our experiences, we know for everyday medical needs, the US system leaves much to be desired and we can hardly wait for the final bill to arrive, NOT!
Today we are building a case for my Dad’s flag and it will soon join a display that holds Dad’s war medals and ribbons. When we started this journey we didn’t really appreciate the true significance of the flag. It started as a symbol of my Dad’s death, but became a symbol of his life and the sacrifices he made so his son could follow his dreams.
As the birthday of our country approaches the flag and our journey has come to remind me why I am glad I was born in America and why I chose to become a Canadian.