In the brisk October air of early morning on a dark highway in central Alberta, a quiet group of men and women stood sentinel alongside 116 Canadian flags waving in the breeze.
And as the clock struck 8 on Oct. 29 — exactly one week after the tragic shooting of a soldier in our nation’s capital — these sentinels released hundreds of red and white balloons into the sky. It was a fitting tribute to the Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives in service of our country.
“If we don’t remember, we forget,” said Al Cameron, executive director of Veterans Voices of Canada, the organization responsible for the Flags of Remembrance tribute.
“We have to remember what these people are sacrificing for us. We have to give them tribute, and we have to remember everything they’re doing.”
The 116 flags were raised along Highway 11 outside of Sylvan Lake on Oct. 24 in remembrance of 116,000 Canadian war dead from 1900 to 2014.
Cameron called it “sad timing” with the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 22.
“The recent deaths have really put focus on remembrance and giving tribute,” said Cameron, who had been planning the testimonial for several months.
“It’s doing exactly what we wanted it to do — bringing people together from right across Canada. It’s just amazing to see, and we’re really proud of what’s happening.”
Cameron planned the tribute as part of his work with Veterans Voices of Canada, a non-profit organization that travels across the country to interview veterans and document their stories for history and education.
“I call them our protectors. I’m meeting some guys and gals who have done some amazing things and who have sacrificed a lot for what we have today,” he said.
And the recent deaths of Cpl. Cirillo in Ottawa and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec reinforce that those sacrifices continue today.
“These guys and these women sacrifice so much every day,” said Cameron. “They’ve got their lives on the line. They could be in the field fighting, or as we’ve seen now, they could be in our own country standing at a national monument.”
The flags will stay up until Nov. 15, when they will be presented to the organizations and individuals who sponsored the tribute. Until then, Cameron hopes that the flags will remind people across the country to remember the sacrifices of Canadian veterans.
“When people drive down the road, they can’t miss them,” he said. “These flags are waving away at everyone down the highway, and that’s our veterans waving to us and saying, ‘Here we are. Remember us.’”