Honouring Canada’s Veterans on Remembrance Day

By Dr. Jeff Keshen Posted: November 10, 2021 8:00 a.m.

Dr. Jeff Keshen places a wreath at the University of Regina’s College Avenue Campus.
Dr. Jeff Keshen places a wreath at the University of Regina’s College Avenue Campus. University Advancement and Communications

During my life, I have spent a great deal of time – some would argue far too much time – watching movies. And of the countless films I have seen, few have made more of an impression on me than Steven Spielberg’s 1998 masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan, which is generally regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time.

I watch Saving Private Ryan every year as Remembrance Day approaches, and each time I do, it affects me on a number of levels – as a fan of movies, as a military and social historian, and as the son of a veteran.

For one thing, I can’t help but marvel at the film’s cinematography, which was groundbreaking at the time and still sets a high standard nearly 25 years later.

More importantly, the film’s harrowing depiction of the US Army’s June 6, 1944 landing on Omaha Beach – an operation that coincided with the Canadian Army’s landing on Juno Beach – is a visceral reminder of the sacrifices undertaken by members of the Allied forces who liberated Europe during the Second World War.

And the film’s ending is equally moving, with the elderly veteran James Ryan, standing at the graveside of the soldier who saved his life decades before, asking his wife to “Tell me I’m a good man” whose post-war life justified the fact that he survived combat while so many others perished.

My late father – who was from Ontario, received part of his Royal Canadian Air Force training at No. 11 Service Flying Training School in Yorkton, and served in a variety of capacities overseas in the United Kingdom – had many stories about “good people” he had known whose lives were irrevocably changed by war. Some were killed in action. Some were civilians killed as a result of the conflict. Others survived but were traumatized for the rest of their lives by what they had experienced. And many on the home front were forced to cope with their own trauma – the loss of friends and loved ones. All of them made tremendous sacrifices.

The reminders of those sacrifices are all around us if we care to look for them – at local cenotaphs, in community museums, in old family photo albums, in the sad but fond memories of relatives and friends, and in the faces of the diminishing number of veterans who are still with us.

When I became President of the University of Regina earlier this year, I was pleased to learn that some of those reminders exist on our campuses.

Our College Avenue campus, for example, has a memorial to the faculty, staff, and students of Regina College who served in the First World War. There is also a plaque at the site commemorating No. 3 Air Observer School, where many Air Force navigators were trained during the Second World War. At First Nations University of Canada, the First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi in the main atrium is a beautiful tribute to Indigenous veterans and their service to Canada.

And I was equally pleased to learn that with an eye to the future, the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment on our main campus conducts research and provides support and treatment to a new generation of heroes – public safety personnel who assist and protect us, often at great personal cost.

As we live through a global pandemic the like of which has not been experienced since the end of the First World War, all of us are enduring some degree of sacrifice – some more than others.

In this context – and in the historical context of two world wars that took a tremendous toll on our country – my hope is that on Remembrance Day and indeed every day, all of us look beyond our current situation and recognize the magnitude of the sacrifices made by our forebears. Like the fictional Private James Ryan, we owe it to those who came before us to be good people committed to building a kind, just, equitable, and compassionate society. That is the future they envisioned for us, and it is the future we have a responsibility to work toward.

Dr. Jeff Keshen
President and Vice-Chancellor