Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas receives the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Port Hardy poppy campaign. Right, Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom receives the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Port McNeill poppy campaign. (District of Port Hardy Facebook photo/Gaby Wickstrom Facebook photo)

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas receives the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Port Hardy poppy campaign. Right, Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom receives the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Port McNeill poppy campaign. (District of Port Hardy Facebook photo/Gaby Wickstrom Facebook photo)

A father’s service: memories of dad hit close to home on Remembrance Day

North Island mayors reflect on how the war shaped their fathers, and in turn themselves.

Lest we forget.

The tangled roots of family history buried deep here in the North Island are coming up to the surface for Remembrance Day in honour of those who served and gave their lives so we can have our freedom.

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas said his father served in the navy towards the end of World War 2 (WW2) where he was stationed on a ship that went into Asia around Hong Kong.

“He said one of the terrible things he had to do was pick up prisoners of war and bring them home,” Dugas said as he took a deep breath and reminisced on his father’s service. “He said it was a pretty horrific situation seeing those men in the condition they were in, because they were just skin and bones — it was a traumatic experience, he was only 17 or 18-years-old when he went overseas and it had a big impact on his life.”

Dugas added his father had spoken with him here and there about his experiences in WW2 while he was growing up, “but it was very hard for him to talk about.”

Port Alice mayor Kevin Cameron spoke briefly when asked about his own father’s service, stating his father didn’t like to talk about the war at all.

“As a youngster I tried to get him to talk about it, but dad was pretty close-lipped about it and said it was a terrible thing and you don’t want to hear those stories and to be thankful that this will never happen again in your lifetime,” Cameron said, adding he thinks that honouring Remembrance Day is “very important, because if we don’t, the history will be forgotten it’s important we keep up this level of respect and honour the day.”

Alert Bay mayor Dennis Buchanan became emotional when asked about his father’s service. “My father served at various places during the war, and Holland was one of the places he went,” he said, his voice trailing off and breaking. “He kept it all bottled up inside of him, and I think it affected his life… it was tough. I can remember him occasionally getting teary-eyed.”

Buchanan added the reason he feels so strongly about Remembrance Day is “because I think of what these guys went through and what they saw and how it affected them and their families when they came back home, and I still see that with our veterans right now — unfortunately there’s been a lack of response from our government when it comes to veteran affairs and I don’t think they’re being treated by our government the way they should be.”

Above all else, Buchanan said he wants everyone to “take the time and honour the fallen” on Nov. 11.

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom has painful feelings towards Remembrance Day. She said she struggles with it due to immigrating with her parents from Germany when she was just nine months old.

“My father did not serve in the war, though he was a mandatory soldier when he was a teenager,” she said of her family’s past. “In school, each time they mentioned the Nazis, the whole class would turn around and stare at me because I was of German decent.”

Wickstrom noted in a heart-wrenching response that events like these “left a lasting impression on me and is probably the reason why I struggle on this day.”

Wickstrom is proud of her Canadian citizenship, but says her German heritage “makes me feel like I don’t have the right to recognize those who lost their lives; as though I share some sort of responsibility in their death. I can tell you I am eternally grateful. I enjoy freedom because of sacrifices made so long ago. I was not a part of that war. My father was not a part of that war. I know my parents were grateful for everything they got to enjoy when they came to this country.”

She added she is still dealing with “learning to lay down the sins a past generation did to the world and not carry them. While I acknowledge they happened, I can do nothing to change it. As a Canadian citizen I can embrace the freedom I have, acknowledge that many paid a huge price for this freedom and walk humbly with gratitude for all that I have.”

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