Honourable senators, first, on behalf of my colleague Senator Francis, I would like to remind you all that on November 8, we celebrate National Aboriginal Veterans Day to honour the contributions of First Nation and Métis people who served in the Canadian military. Senator Christmas reminded us of this in a statement two years ago. At that time, I was moved by Senator Christmas’s tribute to his father, Private Augustus (Gus) Christmas.
Today, I would like to share the story of my father, Private Lauchie MacKinnon, and my brother, Commander Charlie MacKinnon, who both served our country in the Canadian Armed Forces.
My father served in World War II. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to leave his home in Grand Mira in Cape Breton, population — well, not very big — at the age of 19 to head to Italy and Holland to fight in a war. I’m sure he couldn’t begin to imagine the horrors of wartime.
My father didn’t have the luxury of texting, Zoom, MS Teams or even email. When soldiers left home, they had to rely on writing letters, which could take weeks or even months to cross the Atlantic during wartime.
As children, my father never spoke to us about the horrors of war. Instead, he spoke to us about things he saw or did, like Canadian troops going to the Vatican for mass said by the Pope or being on leave in Edinburgh and going into a pub where he met his cousin, who was also from Grand Mira. How exciting that must have been for both of them.
My husband’s grandfather Sergeant Tom Cordy, who served in World War I, only started talking about the war when he was in his 80s. He talked about his unit marching through the woods and the soldier behind him getting killed by a sniper. He said that when you got back to camp, all the men wondered, “Why him and not me?” I am sure this was repeated many times in many camps during the wars.
As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a former member of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, I had the chance to travel across Canada and around the world to meet with our servicewomen and servicemen. They are incredible people.
During my official travels, I was lucky to visit my brother, Commander Charlie MacKinnon, who was stationed in Brunssum in the Netherlands with the Canadian Armed Forces. I phoned to tell him that I was going to ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the NATO parliamentary group. He told me that he was being posted to Afghanistan to do the logistics for Canada, in setting up the base in Kandahar, and he would be at ISAF Headquarters at the same time as me. Imagine the feeling of seeing my brother in Kabul and both of us there on government business, two Cape Bretoners in Afghanistan. I think my dad and mom would have been very proud.
Honourable senators, I salute all of our veterans: those who have served and those who continue to serve.
So while Remembrance Day and National Aboriginal Veterans Day will be different this year, let us all take a moment to remember. Thank you.