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God Forbid A Veteran Should Ruin Your Christmas

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I am continually amazed at the speed with which Canadians abandon Veterans in the name of the holidays.

I work retail. On Sunday the 10th, the concourse outside our store was occupied by the Legion's Poppy Appeal. Remembrance Day is a holiday here in Newfoundland and the mall was closed. When I returned to work bright and early on the 12th, the Poppy table was gone, as expected. What wasn't expected was what replaced it: Santa's village, in all its magnificent splendour, complete with ornaments, lights, and a fake-snow machine. In the roughly 36 hours since closing on Sunday, a group of people had laboured to construct it. They were working on Remembrance Day to ensure that Santa was ready to shove Veterans out of the public mind just as soon as possible.

Now I don't blame Santa one bit. I have no doubt that the jolly old elf would enjoy having a few extra days to himself before being shackled to the couch for baby's first X-mess pictures. He probably spent Remembrance Day hoping for an end to war, an end to soldiers sacrificing themselves and an end to holiday shopping. I know I was (in spite of needing the extra cash.)

I am also not saying everything needs to come to a stop forever in the name of Veterans. That would be silly, not to mention contrary to soldiers' sacrifice -- they died to ensure that their homeland can enjoy peaceful holidays. But I am sure they would be offended at the speed and deliberateness behind this collective amnesia.

We rush into the holidays like some people to drink, seeking obliteration of bad memories. We are trying to obliterate the stories of sacrifice we heard the previous week. It's not just the mall, it's everywhere. Even the media quickly drops Veterans' Day stories as if it is taboo after Remembrance to talk about how we treat those who stand on guard for us. Stories which might have sparked controversy and debate any other time of year are not followed up on. We don't want to hear them; it's the holidays now. The poppies are gone, the poinsettias are out, and here's to a white Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We don't want to think about the families who will sit around the tree, yet again mourning the loss of fathers and mothers and siblings and spouses and offspring. We don't want to know about soldiers killing themselves. We don't want to read about the homeless Veterans who served our nation and now are served in soup-lines, hoping to find someplace to sleep where they won't freeze.

We don't want to learn about the 27,000+ medical files deliberately destroyed by Veterans Affairs, depriving a veteran of ability to fight for his pension. We don't want to read about Corporal Bruce Moncur, who survived having his head blown open by a trigger-happy US pilot, lost 5 per cent of his brain, suffers ongoing medical issues as a result and to whom we Canadians have awarded the magnificent compensation of $22,000 for his troubles.

We don't want to know that Dan Scott was hit by an anti-personnel mine and we gave him $42,000 for his spleen, a kidney, a damaged pancreas and another 50+ years of medical issues. We don't want to hear about the broken bodies, shattered minds, and devastated lives any more. Remembrance Day is over and it's the holidays! YAY!

Why are we so desperate to move past the 11th? The point of Remembrance Day is remembering, not forgetting once the day is done. Is it the distress of learning about the sacrifices we require of others? Do we suffer horrors thinking of the horrors they witnessed? Is it the guilt from failing our Veterans, forcing them to sue us for fair treatment?

Or is it simple apathy? Do we think veterans are people that we don't know, haven't met, and couldn't relate to? Some strange subculture, committed to sacrifice for others? Rare, weird individuals who are not part of our lives and, therefore, not to be thought about, beyond the social obligation of Remembrance Day?

Because that's not the case. You know a Veteran; I bet you do. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that you know several. Probably you are not even aware of it. There are nearly 1 million Veterans of the Forces and RCMP in Canada. That's roughly 1 in 35 Canadians. How many people to you know well enough to talk to? Take a guess, divide by 35, and that's the likely number of veterans you know. Simple.

But maybe you haven't thought about that, in which case, it is understandable that veterans are not uppermost in your mind. We all only think about the issues which impact our lives or which we can put a face on.

Which is why Our Duty launched Veterans Among Us three years ago. We want Veterans to come out of the woodwork at the beginning and end of November. We want Canadians to realize how many Veterans they know: co-workers, friends, the woman you talk to on the bus every day, buddy down at the store buying lotto, the single-parent at the school assembly. Perhaps even one of Santa's helpers. That's why we made Veterans Among Us two days: to kick off Remembrance by showing us who we should remember and to stave off the holiday frenzy with a little reminder not to forget.

Maybe you do care about Veterans. Maybe you dislike the mad dash to forget, too.

Here's another chance to celebrate veterans, another opportunity to talk to a vet, and another time to think about how you can help them.

It even fits into holiday shopping -- imagine if every 35th person in the mall had on medals or insignia; would that change the way you think? While you sit in the mall, waiting for that family member to come on already, instead of looking at grumpy animals on your smartphone, why not read up on our veterans?

Maybe take a few minutes to sign a petition supporting them. Perhaps check out the new app to help out homeless Veterans. I bet you could even do that while waiting in the line to meet Santa.

I'm not saying it's wrong to enjoy the holidays, just that it's wrong to use the holidays to drive out Veterans and the lessons they give us. Lest we forget.

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