Our ‘greatest generation’ is slipping away from us

The passing this winter and spring of two Manitoulin Island Second World War naval veterans (George Boyd of Kagawong in January and, two weeks ago, Ed Kift of Little Current) stands as a reminder of the passage of time as we note this week is the seventieth anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day when Holland was liberated from Nazi tyranny.

The two men, and their living veteran comrades, were lads of 19, 20, 21 or 22 years of age 70 years ago when the war was declared to be officially ended in Europe and the Allies’ focus was then primarily on the war in the Pacific where Ed Kift served until VJ Day (Victory in Japan) more than a year later.

Those of us who are baby boomers and were born at the end of that war or during the following two decades have known only peace, with the exception of those who have opted for military careers and have served as part of one of Canada’s many United Nations peacekeeping forces through Europe and Africa, as a member of the NATO force we sent to Afghanistan or as a member of the military force Canada has committed to battle the ISIS movement in Syria and its plan for a conservative Muslim-based government that would supersede several existing Middle Eastern national borders.

But 70 years ago, the Allied Forces of which Canada’s fighting men and women were a part had more or less completed the process of battling their way across Europe, an event that began with the successful D-Day Landing of Allied forces on the Normandy beaches in France a year earlier.

As Canadians who fell into the succeeding generations represented by Mr. Kift’s and Mr. Boyd’s children and grandchildren, none of us has had any reason to go to war, certainly not as someone of that “Greatest Generation” who left civilian life to don a uniform for a few years (“for the duration” as they said) and then simply went back to civilian life. This had been the example of George Boyd and Ed Kift who simply got on with their productive lives following demobilization for the Royal Canadian Navy.

We tend to think of significant anniversary dates as those divisible by five: 25, 50, 60, 70, 75, 90 and so on.

When we get to the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day in five years’ time, there will be predictably dramatically fewer veterans of the conflict left among us for our lifespan is what it is. Those who live on into their late nineties will remain exceptional.

If you have the good fortune to know someone who was liberated from under the Nazi boot by the Allied forces during that remarkable spring 1944-spring 1945 Allied offensive, by all means talk to them about their recollections of that experience.

It’s a certain guarantee that praise for Canadians’ efforts will figure prominently in your conversation.

On the part of this newspaper, we are pleased to reprise the reminiscences of Ann Zylstra of Mindemoya this week as she recalls that epic time in her home country’s history.