Young people across Ponoka took part in Remembrance Day ceremonies during Veterans’ Week to honour soldiers who died for their country.
It was no different at the St. Augustine Catholic School Nov. 9 as the Social Studies 20 class hosted their own ceremony. A tribute video was played and students took turns putting into perspective some of pertinent facts from previous wars including, Canadian casualties at 67,000 and 173,000 wounded in the First World War; 1.1 million Canadians served in the Second World War. During the Korean War 26,791 troops were sent to support the United Nations to defend South Korea from a North Korean invasion.
Students took the time to ensure veterans were remembered during the ceremony and they invited former graduate Maury Gratrix to speak about his time in the Canadian Forces.
Gratrix grew up in Ponoka and graduated from St. Augustine Catholic School and he joined the military after the U.S. World Trade Centre attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He became an infantryman; his goal was to become a sniper.
“I’ve always had a fascination with snipers and the things they could do and accomplish the training they had,” he told students.
After receiving special training as a paratrooper, warfare and air delivery, he eventually deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. “It was the first time I had been to a war zone. It was the first tour I did; it was the last tour I did.”
He feels the Canadian Forces don’t shy away from difficult tasks and they can be relied on to get the job done. It took 650 troops to hold a strategic position in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
“We took it and held it. When we pulled out of there the coalition pumped 60,000 troops to hold the same ground as we did with 650. It’s just kind of a testament to how Canadians operate in war time,” he said.
Thirty-six soldiers died during the time they were in the area, nine of those were from his group. Remembrance Day plays an important part in Gratrix’s life. “That’s the day for me to slow down…and think back to the men I served with and some of their sacrifices.”
The poppy is one of the ways people can thank soldiers for their work in ensuring a free Canada.
Gratrix retired from the military in 2008 and he said returning to Canada was a challenge. He left Afghanistan having constantly been on guard to returning home where being on guard was not necessary.
“You have to remember you’re not in a war zone anymore, you have to drop your guard,” he explained.
The war took its toll on him though and he suffers from nightmares on occasion. Some of his comrades have had a tougher time recuperating from the experience. Often he and several other men he served with will go on a camping trip and discuss the positive experiences but not the difficult times.
The poverty he saw in the area was something he did not expect. He tells the story of two Afghan men who assisted with certain chores in the camp and how he gave them some of his rations but was confused when they did not eat it. An interpreter explained they were saving it for their children.
“They live the same way now as they did a hundred years ago,” he stated.
The experience has left a lasting impression on Gratrix and some scars were more mental than physical, he explained. However if asked to go again he would but he knows he would not enjoy it.
His hope is for a better way to solve these issues.
“Hopefully we’ll see an end to war but I don’t think that will be the case,” he said. “As long as there’s been man there’s been war so I don’t see it ending any time soon but I think it’s something we need to learn how to do as a species is get along. I think war should be a very last option in any case.”
Gratrix retired with the rank of corporal and is a welder living in the Ponoka area.