zaterdag 8 november 2008

83-year old Aboriginal Glengarry Hero visits Canadian Senate

When Donn Fowler enlisted as a 14-year-old to serve Canada in the Second World War, it's a sure bet he never imagined his service would someday be recognized on the Senate floor. Especially when one considers his Metis heritage and the fact Canada's treatment of its aboriginal veterans is but another blight on that sad chapter in our history. But there he was Thursday, seated behind a senator's desk in the Red Chamber where he was attending the 11th Ceremony of Remembrance. "It was very emotional," said Fowler, who celebrated his 83rd birthday yesterday. "There were quite a few tears, hidden, from the old fellows who remember what that ceremony represents." Fowler was invited to the ceremony as representative for the National Aboriginal Veterans' Association (NAVA). Among the dignitaries Fowler met Thursday was General Walt Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff. "I said to him, 'You've got your hands full, I don't envy you,'" said Fowler, who was referring, of course, to Canada's ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan. He said "it meant a great deal" that a native shaman and aboriginals in traditional dress were included in the service. "It was a marvelous occasion. ... The balcony was filled at both ends," said Fowler, who wasn't sure which senator's seat he'd taken. The recognition of the role natives have played in defending Canada is long overdue, said Fowler. He said many who returned from Europe after the Second World War - particularly those from reserves - were denied benefits that helped other veterans build a home or go back to school. Fowler's service to his country continued a family tradition that dates back generations. "We have a history of warfare as warriors through our family," he said. There's even a Victoria Cross recipient in the family tree, John Edmund Fowler earned the Commonwealth's highest honour for military valour in a pre-First World War battle. Fowler said his great-grandfather defended Leeds at the time of the Fenian raids, his grandfather served in the Boer War and First World War, while is dad is a veteran of the Second World War. His own service began in 1940 and after spending his first year of enlistment in Canada, Fowler was sent overseas on July 15, 1941. He was in England until a month after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 when he was part of the next wave of soldiers to land in France. Fowler, who served with the 1st Battalion of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, said his combat duties eventually took him from Normandy to Belgium, Holland and Germany. When he returned to Canada in 1947, Fowler came to Brockville to complete his high school before attending Queen's University. A retiree from Automatic Electric, Fowler is a former city councillor and has lived in Brockville since the war with his wife, Eva (a Brockville girl, he said proudly). With just a few days until the nation stops Tuesday to honour veterans on Remembrance Day, Fowler said it's a time of uncomfortable thoughts. The services always make raw the memories of war. "I keep thinking about the people that were left behind, some of them 16, 17 and 18 years old," he explained. "That's not easy to digest at this time of year. It's a little tough to do." Fowler has spoken to high school students in the past and said he always has a simple message for young people. "Please try to remember," he said, adding it's his hope future generations don't repeat the mistakes of the past. "There's no need for killing each other if we can do something responsible," said Fowler. "The young people have got a terrible responsibility to keep the peace in some way because without the peace, we're lost."

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