The promise of spring held only mockery and even the innocent beauty of the crocuses, trying to break through a bitter crust of snow most have done little to alleviate the quick, sharp agony of loss my father felt when he read the telegram.
No doubt, the words blurred and swam before his tear filled eyes on that fateful day.
“We regret to inform you, your son lost his life during flying operations at 2 a.m. on March 9, 1944. He was killed during a night take-off on the east/west runway at RAF Station Einshmer, five miles east of Hader, Palestine.”
I was not yet even a twinkle in my dad’s eye when he received the telegram on that long ago, raw spring day, but family history has kept the heartbeat of the story alive and strong throughout the years.
As for me, I am proud to know these strong and vibrant threads of history have been woven by the lives and times of those gone before me into the colorful tapestry of my heritage.
The family has the diaries of Richard Wellington Warden, killed in action in 1944, and I have pored over the entries, my curious eyes trying to piece together the life of this stranger whom fate has dictated I will never have the privilege of meeting.
I read the words penned by this young man barely out of his teens and, in those few scribbled lines, I see a different world, a world fraught with danger, thrills and an ever present fear that constantly lurks unseen in the shadows.
Richard (Dick) writes about the thrill of flying and the excitement of receiving those coveted pilot wings. And he writes about his buddies and hanging out, trying their luck at picking up cute girls.
But, mostly, as the war raged around him, the message he hasn’t written is the one that comes through loud and clear.
He wants to come home. He doesn’t want to be in the middle of a stinking war where the stench of the dying littering the battlefield assaults the living. He wants to live. He wants to kiss his girl. He wants to have fun. Go fishing. Play ball.
But he did none of those things, and before he reached his 22nd birthday, he became just another casualty of war. And they will not grow old!
I close the diary gently and quickly drop a kiss onto the forehead of the man in a wheelchair sitting beside me.
He is a war vet having served with the Royal Canadian Signal Corps in Korea. He also served overseas with peacekeeping corps in Germany and the Belgian Congo.
Today, he sits quietly, gazing out of the hospital window, while the memories of those days when he served his country dance unseen behind his pale blue eyes.
In my own memory, I only recall fleeting glimpses of this older brother, a young man in a uniform, a stranger really, to a child too young to understand very much of anything at all about war or the aftermath of war.
My brother was a proud soldier who never really quit being a soldier, even after he was discharged.
In 2001, he assisted National Defense in having 185 Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medals presented to veterans or their next of kin. He was presented with the Certificate of Merit in 2003 for many years of dedicated service to the Legion. On Nov. 11, 2005 he was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal for his outstanding contribution in helping veterans and their families.
I think about how he stood proudly at attention through many, many Remembrance Day Services and how he continued to serve his country long after he retired his uniform and carefully hung up his medals.
And, once again, I see more threads being woven into the tapestry of my heritage.
And I feel so very grateful that these young men in my family, and so many other young men and women sacrificed so much so we could have the privilege of wearing poppies and attending Remembrance Day services.
Lest we forget – how could we?
Treena Mielke is editor of The Rimbey Review and is a columnist for Black Press.