Legion looks for new members to carry on mission
Camrose Royal Canadian Legion Branch 57 lay wreaths around a cenotaph and observed two minutes of silence to honour the Canadian soldiers who suffered on the beaches of Normandy France of D-Day in Camrose on June 6. Leah Simonot/Camrose Canadian/Postmedia Network
As the Camrose Royal Canadian Legion Branch 57 gathered to honour those who fought on D-Day, they were also looking to find a new way forward.
Members of the Legion gathered on June 6 to lay wreaths upon a cenotaph and observe a moment of silence for the soldiers who suffered on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944, while cars and pedestrians carried on along 50th Ave., past the Legion’s small parade.
Serving Officer Ragnar Gislason didn’t expect the D-Day ceremony would draw a large crowd. He said it was planned “on the spur of the moment,” a few weeks in advance. Yet it did not pale in earnestness.
“Those people should be remembered because they were the people that laid the foundation for what we have today,” said Serving Officer Ragnar Gislason. “The Legion, their primary purpose is remembrance and service.”
The task now is to engage younger generations.
A Legion member of nearly 40 years, Gislason first joined the Legion after leaving the military.
“It was the thing to do,” he said. “That’s where you met all your old friends ... The other thing too, is now a lot of guys joined the Legion because they were having problems with injuries and aches and pains — things that were caused by their military service.”
He particularly recalls how, after the Second World War, there was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — there was only shell shock.
“That is really not a good term,” said Gislason. “All those veterans who came back, they had nobody to talk to. The average civilian could not understand what they were talking about and so they (veterans) joined the Legion so they could talk to other veterans.”
In addition to this, they engaged in community service, volunteering and, of course, remembrance.
Comrade Tom Coulis has been looking after veterans’ funerals in and Decoration Day at the Camrose cemetery for the past 50 years. But as years go by, he finds it increasingly difficult to find volunteers.
“There’s a half a dozen of us, if I can scrape them up and we look after a guard of honour for them for the funerals. And that’s what’s left,” said Coulis, a Legion member of 70 years.
“Man power, that’s what we need.”
With an aging membership, the Legion has turned to the cadets to carry the colours at their annual Remembrance Day ceremony, held at the Camrose Regional Exhibition on Nov. 11 each year.
“It was different times,” said Gislason, reflecting on his years in the Royal Canadian Army and early years in the Legion thereafter. “We’re like every other service organization. I figure in another two generations there won’t be any service organizations.”
As the Royal Canadian Legion looks forward to marking 90 years of remembrance and service in Canada, Coulis and Gislason are looking to the younger generations to ensure their traditions carry forward. While they both hold on to positive memories of times passed — “There was some good times, there was some bad times, but you only remember the good times,” said Gislason, to Coulis’ agreement — they are passionate about the Legion’s mandate of remembrance.
To Gislason, this is crucial to preventing the recurrence of historical mistakes in the future.
“If you don’t know what happened in the past, you’re going to make that mistake in the future. History repeats itself and you don’t want it to repeat the bad stuff,” said Gislason.
An open house will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 57 (6002 50 Avenue) from 2 to 4 p.m. July to recognize their 90 years of service in Canada.