Another year has passed. There are fewer veterans gracing Remembrance Day ceremonies and Canadians are still working hard for peace and freedom around the world. In their honour the ceremony held at Ponoka Composite High School was particularly special.
“Remembrance Day 2012 is special, as we are previewing our Hall of Valor. The Hall of Valor is located on the northeast side of the school and is dedicated to the soldiers that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Amy Lank, a student and master of ceremonies.
Each classroom in the hall is named after a Canadian battle, and is symbolic of final resting places of Ponoka and area soldiers.
After the singing of O Canada, student Stephanie Rowland gave a testimonial of last year’s Broncs World Tour trip to Europe.
Rowland remembers riding on a bus a lot through Europe, and the small towns that were routinely punctuated by graveyards.
“There would be a row of houses, and then suddenly a graveyard. And each graveyard no matter how small, was well looked after, It was amazing to see how important these graveyards were to the people there,” said Rowland.
Rowland said it was the first ceremony they visited that had the greatest effect on her. She never knew a graveyard could be so serene.
It wasn’t until she got closer to the beautiful white stones that stood row upon row that it hit her; each stone represented a real person. Many of them only 18 years old, just a year older than Rowland herself.
“But one grave stood out to me from the rest. He wasn’t really young, or really old, and I can’t even remember his name,” said Rowland.
However, Rowland says she will remember what the man’s grave said: “A devoted husband, son and father of two. You will be missed forever.”
“The man was only around 35, so knowing that his two children must have been so young, and knowing they had to grow up without a father showed me just how much some people sacrificed for our county,” finished Rowland.
Another Broncs World Tour participant also spoke of past trips at the ceremony. Former student, Erika Cissell returned to introduce and honour this year’s Hall of Valor inductee; Warrant Officer II Willard Doran.
Cissell spent four months researching Doran, and found out much about him. “He was a small-framed man with blonde hair and blue eyes and a large sense of humour.”
Doran enlisted in the Canadian military on April 10, 1942, at 19 years old.
He grew up in the Ponoka area and was the youngest of five children. He had an older brother, Robert, and three sisters, Madgline, Ann and Laura.
“We were fortunate enough to have a chance to talk with Laura. She told us about one of her fondest memories, which were his amazing mocking ability and his love of dance,” said Cissell.
On Jan. 1, 1944, Doran was part of a seven-man crew flying in an attack on Berlin, Germany. The crew was gunned down near Brunswick, Germany. There were no survivors. They were laid to rest in Hannover, Germany.
“It’s one thing to be standing here talking about Willard but it’s another thing to be talking about him standing over his grave in Germany,” Cissell concluded.
The school’s ceremony also featured two video presentations: one about Ontario’s Highway of Heroes and another on the horrors of the First and Second World Wars, complete with photographs and video.
Ponoka Composite High School held the ceremony to honour the sacrifices of the veterans but the school didn’t glorify war. It honoured the truth about what those sacrifices really meant.
The First World War resulted in more than 20 million casualties, and the Second World War had more than 70 million. It is the most devastating human conflict in history.
Since the Second World War Canada has served in several peacekeeping missions, including Korea and Cyprus, as well and those in Afghanistan.
Near the end of the ceremony the school’s choir sang a musical rendition of In Flanders Fields, student candle bearers stood at attention and Sam Quinn, another master of ceremonies, led the room in a pledge of remembrance: They were young, as we are young. They served, giving freely of themselves. To them, we pledge, amid the winds of time, to carry their torch and never forget. We will remember them.
After the ceremony was the Hall of Valor’s preview. “The preview was phenomenal. It was just better than we ever could have expected,” said Ron Labrie, founder of the school’s Broncs World Tour.
Labrie said the Hall of Valor preview is something that might be added to the school’s Remembrance Day ceremony every year. “It’s just one of those things we want to show off.”
Labrie was also happy with music components of the ceremony and the general feeling of respect the students showed. “It really added to the emotion of the ceremony.”
“The kids were really great. When we have two minutes of silence you can only hear a heartbeat. It’s pretty powerful,” he added.