Mortality of Modern Day Heroes

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Today?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Globe and Mail offered an article regarding the recognition of Canadian troops in liberating Ortona, Italy, from the grip of Nazi forces in 1943. Hitler has fortified Ortona to be their last stronghold in Italy.

However, it wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t the celebration that was of interest to me. Nor was it contemplating what happened over 60 years ago. What interested me was the photo on the front page and its caption.

It was a photo of Canadian veteran Smoky Smith getting a peck on the cheek from an Italian school girl. The caption stated that Smoky Smith is the last surviving Victoria Cross winner.

On 21 October 1944, Private Ernest “Smoky” Smith single-handedly defeated a German counter-attack on the Savio River bridgehead in Italy, including two tanks and roughly 60 German soldiers. Seven weeks later, Smoky was awarded the Victoria Cross. The medal normally is awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

Smoky is just over 90 years old. Only God knows how much time he has left. But his efforts and his presence in this world gives us a real tie to the Second World War. Once he is gone, his entire life and the sacrifices he made will be but memories, easily forgotten.

My great-great-grandfather?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s brother, John Loskot, fought in World War One. He died in battle as a Private in the Fifth Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment). Two hundred forty soldiers and officers from the Fifth Battalion died that day (28 April 1917) under heavy German shelling that lasted nearly 24 hours, north of Arleux, France.

Maybe it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s this familial tie to World War One that made Smoky?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s by-line pop out. Either way, I suppose death is inevitable and real life heroes like Smoky (He received the Order of Canada in 1995) eventually pass on into the history books.

Maybe this year, I will actually participate in the Remembrance Day programmes.

5 thoughts on “Mortality of Modern Day Heroes

  1. Last month I attended the funeral of my father, who was a WWII veteran. That statement is true only in the technical sense: Japan surrendered while he was in US Navy training in California. He subsequently went to Guam, served as a yeoman (mostly by typing) for a Marine Colonel lawyer handling war damages claims, and came home without firing a shot or being fired at.

    I was very insistent that he receive military honors at his grave. I wore my own uniform to honor his service. He was a war hero.

    You may wonder how I could think that, since he didn’t show up until after the war had been called off, and served only about one year in uniform. Here’s why:

    First, when he joined the Navy, almost no one knew the war was about to end. The best information they had was that the war was going to continue through a long and gruesome land invasion of Japan, causing possibly millions in casualties. Dad didn’t know if he would be one of those casualties. But honestly, I don’t think his thinking even went that far. He just understood that he had a duty to do the right thing, and he did it.

    More importantly: A man doesn’t become a hero the day he gives his life. He doesn’t become a hero the day he risks his life. He becomes a hero the day he offers his life. Like so many of his generation, (a generation that too many like to denigrate), he offered his life, laying it on the altar of freedom and waiting to see if it would be taken. He was a hero. They were all heroes.

  2. I’ve just noticed an indication of my personal vanity. I keep nervously watching the line of recent comments and seeing my post on this thread slide down the line. I realized I’m afraid it will disappear before someone sees that I’ve left a comment here and comes to read it.

    In fact, that’s probably the real reason I’m posting now–maybe my confession is just a pretext.

  3. Can we put another 20 recent posts at the bottom of the right hand sidebar, Kim?

    It saves having to log in and scroll down all the comments (in reverse order). Especially when you can’t come here for a couple days.

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