• Maggie Wheeler

All Our Yesterdays

Actor Michael Shanks as Major Archie MacNaughton, in the new Historica Canada Heritage Minute for D-Day 75.

Each week, when I sit down to write this blog, the challenge is usually “What do I write about and where do I go with it?”

This week, because last week was a packed one, I have the opposite problem. I have many subjects and stories to work with. However, due to what is happening this Thursday, my choice is simple.

Last week, Historica Canada hosted its fourth and final pre-launch preview of its new Heritage Minute marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The event was in Ottawa and I attended with my daughters and a friend. It was special to be there and a very interesting evening. But what I will always remember is having the chance to shake hands with living history.

Two guests were D-Day vets, men who had helped storm the beaches on June 6, 1944 and lived to tell about it—even 75 years later. They had walked into the firestorm of relentless German artillery, pushing forward as they watched their friends and fellow soldiers fall beside them.

War is something I can only imagine, an experience the magnitude of D-Day even more so. Yet I had the privilege of meeting Jack, age 94, who had spirit and humour and joie de vivre that belied what he had survived. Or perhaps was because of it. And, three-quarters of a century later, it was all still there in his mind as though it were yesterday.

One of the D-Day 75 articles over the past few days quoted another vet who was interviewed as asking, “What have you done with the tomorrows we gave you?” It is a question that resonates with the growing darkness in the world at this time. Conquering the Nazis seemed the decisive good over evil, and that we would never have to do it again on that scale. But the news now brings us daily stories that have a terrible familiarity to them. It must seem so heartbreaking to those WWII vets still left that, despite the thousands who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we are heading down that path again.

Our generation was raised in a society defined by war. Although we have never witnessed war on a global scale, our parents and grandparents did. We inherited their post-war sensibilities and the accompanying cultural nuances. We have enjoyed a half-century of tomorrows made possible by people like Jack and thousands like him—the greatest gift one person can give another. How do we answer the question about those tomorrows? How do we gauge all our yesterdays?

This Thursday, there will be major ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We need to use them to stop and reflect on history’s largest military mission and the people who made it happen.

Perhaps deeply understanding the true gift of all our yesterdays is the key to building the way to better tomorrows.

Talk next week,


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