Posts Tagged ‘Remembrance Day’


As I read the story of high school teacher, Martha Cothren, I kept thinking …

‘I’m gonna ‘snopes’ this, because it’s too good to be true’

So, when I finished, I did snopes it, and I truthorfiction’ed it and, guess what? It is REAL!

Although some accounts get the details not quite right (that is what happens when real stories are told, over and over), the core of the story is solid, true and such a great illustrative lesson. Rather than copy and paste the stories told by others, I’ll just give you my re-telling of the various accounts that I have read.

Martha Cothren is the daughter of a man who was a WW2 prisoner of war.

She taught high school History, in Little Rock, Arkansas at Robinson High School (she still teaches History there, according to the school website). On the first day of school, he students arrived to a classroom empty of desks.

As someone who works in a school, that could be a first day of school nightmare!

Ah, but Ms. Cothren had a lesson plan in mind … one that, I bet, that her students will not forget.

According to legend, Ms. Cothren told her students that they would need to guess what they could do to earn their desks.

The students offered responses such as:

– good grades
– good behavior

They did not find the answer to unlocking the key to earning their desks.

At some point, later in the day, presumably as the students were doing their school work on the floor of the classroom, their classroom door opened.

In came their desks, each carried by a veteran.

Then, with a classroom full of desks, high school students and veterans, Ms. Cothren told her class that they did not have to earn their desks, but that they were earned for them, by men and women such as those who carried them into their classroom.

Though this is not a Canadian story, it’s truth is as applicable here as the country from which it came.

What a great lesson! What a thoughtful teacher to make the sacrifice of others real for those who benefit from that sacrifice.

It is the story of John 15:13 :


It’s the story of true sacrifice, of true bravery, of true love. Giving so that others might have what you, yourself might not ever benefit from. It is what Christ did for all, and our acceptance of the sacrifice is not necessary for us to receive the benefits earned for us.

We cannot earn what we have, it has been bought with a greater price than anything we could ever do in this life.

as you read this today, on my Remembrance Day, and your Veterans Day, please know how very thankful I was to receive your email response. We will not forget!

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The idea of sacrifice surrounds this month.

Just over a week ago we remembered those who sacrificed for freedom in world conflicts on Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day, or whatever other title that day holds for you, where you live). Then a friend went with the Canadian Medical Assistance Team (CMAT) to help set up a medical center in the Philippines, after the deadly Typhoons, causing thousands of deaths, injuries and millions of people displaced from their homes. Then a mom, experiencing mixed emotions as her son, who desires to be a law enforcement officer, got called into training.

These events have caused me to consider sacrifice.

Who is it who is making a sacrifice when a person in the military is called to go to the Middle East?

Who is it who is making a sacrifice when they go to work in law enforcement?

Who is it who is making a sacrifice when they go to work as a firefighter?

Who is it who is making a sacrifice when they get called to the hospital to do emergency surgery, on Christmas morning?

When our friend left for the Philippines, I heard people say,

“what a sacrifice he is making”

but he is not the only one making a sacrifice.

Those who have gone (and who are presently involved) to places of conflict are not the only ones who sacrificed. Their families, their communities, their loved ones, also paid a price.

The man who is entering law enforcement is not the only one who is sacrificing. His wife, his parents, his current workplace, his community are also paying a price.

Our friend helping those who have suffered the ravages of the typhoons is not the only on who is making a sacrifice. His wife, working full time, will be living as a single mom for three weeks. Their two young children will be missing their dad. His workplace, as a firefighter, will be sacrificing the hours he would normally be fulfilling his job requirements. His parents will be concerned for his safety. His friends will miss him.

These people who sacrifice, sacrifice many intangibles, for those in need.

We mustn’t forget, as we pray for them, to pray for those who love and care for them … the sacrifice is theirs too.

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“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.
See that you are not alarmed,
for this must take place,
but the end is not yet.”
Matthew 24:6

I do not know all that is involved in the meaning behind the passage above. Wars and rumors of wars have been taking place almost since Adam and Eve first ate of the fruit that they were instructed not to eat.

Today is Remembrance Day (Veterans Day, Armistice Day) a day that brings a watery-eyed stare to the eyes of veterans, a day for those of us living in peace and freedom an opportunity, not to glorify war, but to thank those who sacrificed for the gift of peace and freedom.

There is nothing like hearing the stories of freedom attained during WWII as the Canadian soldiers (and others) marched into Holland, or the stories of Jews who survived the Holocaust, because of the freedom attained through the lives of others, to push me to a cenotaph on November 11 … it is the least I could do.

Soldiers are not warmongers, they are men and women who are called to give … give their time, their youth, their will, and even their lives. They are fulfilling not a desire to kill, but a desire to prevent others from being killed, abused, demeaned, disrespected. They are fulfilling their job, as instructed to do so.

But it does not mean that those with whom they are enemies in wartime, are enemies in times of peace.

My family and I are blessed to see the redeeming work of God every Sunday, just by going to church. You see, the make up of our church is something that only God could do, and He has done it so well. On any given Sunday our sanctuary is filled with individuals from all over the world. And, in the pews sit many veterans … Canadian, German, and (until recent years) Russian … wartime enemies, peacetime friends.

I struggled with locating a ‘guest post’ for today. I so wanted something that would be meaningful, respectful, honoring.

So, in light of my earlier words about freedom, I want to introduce you to Neil Wilkenson, a British Gunner during the Falkland War, and Argentinean fighter pilot Mariano Velasco. During this war Neil shot Mariano’s plane down, and has been dealing with post traumatic demons ever since. In an effort to find inner peace, Neil wanted to find out what happened to the fighter pilot he shot down. This is the story of their reunion, and the freedom that was found by these wartime enemies.

In the words of Neil, “the welcome was everything I had thought of, no thoughts of hatred, nothing but pure admiration for each other and as former professionals we both understood it was our duty to carry out what we had against each other back in 1982.”

Another, more intensive link is here.


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As I sat looking at the schedule for chapel at school, back in September, my eyes glanced Remembrance Day chapel, and the name of the teacher who is responsible each year for it. Immediately the name and face of man in our church came to mind.

This man is a veteran of World War II, during which he served as a fighter pilot, out of the airfields of Britain. He has seen, smelled and felt the glories and agonies of many battle successes as well as defeats, including being shot down resulting in the loss of three fingers, and in the loss of many fellow soldiers.

There have been sharing times at our church when he has bravely bared his heart through his memories of his time at war. His speaking is always well delivered, clear, authoritative and moving. He can draw a picture in the mind of the listener when he speaks. His stories contain real, vivid memories of specific battles, when only a small portion of his comrades returned afterward, stories of sorrow, stories of loss, stories that always end with a mention of wishing he had known then about the God who had His hand on his life, even though it he had not known him personally until more than sixty years later.

Well I spoke to this veteran, excited by my great idea to have him share his story with today’s youth. I just knew that he would be the man who would share in such a way that the listeners would not hear of the gore of video games and movies, but of the real experiences and emotions that war produces, as well as a sincere interjection of how faith, however late in life is found, is never too late.

The response from this man, this veteran, adequately sat me back on my behind. His response was sacrificial … he would agree to do it, but only because my hubby and I love him, and he loves us.

All of a sudden, I got it … I got the message that Remembrance Day should provide for all of us who have so little to remember. That message is that the stories that we hear, the remembering that we are exposed to, are not just ceremony with hymns, trumpets and marching, they are not just stories, like fairy tales from a book. They are the memories of men and women who have sacrificed for freedom. They are memories that communicate that the sacrifice is on-going. It did not end when the war was declared ended, it does not end until their inner war is finally declared finished, one that ushers them from this life and into the next.

The following Sunday I spoke with him, thanked him, and told him that our friendship was in no way a reason for him to have to re-live his memories. I told him our friendship would never ask such a sacrifice of him … that he had sacrificed enough already.

With tears in his eyes, he said he just didn’t think he could do it. And that is okay, because he has done enough already!

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I wrote this post, while sitting in my pj’s, drinking my coffee, watching Canada’s national Remembrance Day service in Ottawa, on the television. As we live on the west coast we are afforded the time to watch the nations memorial before attending out own local one.

As we lived in Ottawa for six years, it is like being there again when we watch it.

Every year, whether at a Remembrance Day memorial or watching it on television, I am intrigued by one person in particular (in Ottawa). It is not the leader of the country, or of the riding. It is not the clergy who speak and pray. It is not the player of the trumpet. It is not the Governor General. It is not even the members of the royal family that we have seen in Ottawa. It is the Silver Cross Mother.

The Silver Cross is given, by the nation, to one mother each year. according to Veterans Affairs Canada, this “Memorial Cross, the gift of Canada, was issued as a memento of personal loss and sacrifice on the part of widows and mothers of Canadian sailors and soldiers who died for their country during the war.” It is an award, a medal, a distinction, in which the winner has lost. To receive the silver cross, is to have lost a son, or daughter, in military service for Canada.

This year I watched Patricia Braun, whose son was killed by a suicide bomber, in Kandahar, in 2006 at the age of twenty-seven. She was escorted with her wreath, by Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston. She was the first to lay her wreath, for (in my opinion) she lost more than any other who would lay a wreath in remembrance. She walked with poise, she laid her wreath, and then, as any mother could relate to, she kissed her fingers and laid them on the wreath … and she, and any mother watching, nearly lost it, as the gravity of why she was there fell upon our hearts.

As mothers we all know that in having a child means that we will need to give them up at some time. Just as Mary, when she was told that she would bear the Son of God. But, like Mary, we mothers do not really think too deeply about that giving up when they are a tiny babe. When they are small enough to still be carried in our arms they are all ours, and their world (quite literally) revolves around us as mothers.

The Bible (Luke 2:19) says that “Mary treasured all these things in her heart and always thought about them.” This is just prior to having her little baby boy circumcised. This is just after a week of his arrival, and the visits of shepherds who had been sent by the heavenly host and the angel.

I always wonder, what was Mary pondering? What was she really aware of? Did she know the scriptures that foretold of the coming Messiah? Did she know the scriptures that referred to him as a “lamb before the slaughter” (Isaiah 53), and as one who would “bear our suffering” (Isaiah 53)?

If we, as mothers knew the suffering that life might offer our child, our tiny babe, would we (could we) give them up to the world when they are adults?

I do not know the mind of Patricia Braun. I am sure that when her twelve year old son (my son is twelve) decided to seek a future with the military, she did not foresee where his future was to go, but she may have pondered the foreshadowing his desire created in her mother heart. She said in response to receiving the medal, “It’s kind of bitter sweet. I’m very proud to wear the Silver Cross.” It would seem she saw the bigger picture of her son’s sacrifice, but that does not detract from her personal sorrow.

I do not know the mind of Mary, but I am sure she was aware of the gravity of her babe’s future when Simeon, in the temple said to she and Joseph, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2). That said, she was also was blissfully unaware of his future when her twelve year old son (my son is twelve) had been missing while traveling. When he was found he replied to his parents “’didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them” (Luke 2). She sacrificed, for the good of all humanity, but that does not detract from her personal sorrow.

As we enter the gift purchasing, and gift giving season may we not forget that there is no gift that can equal the gift of life for life. And that is what Jesus came for, to give his life for ours.

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There are things that others have said to me when I was a child, and those words still come to mind at times. Words hurt!  Words of truth (when spoken in love) only hurt for awhile, but words that have no basis in truth, and have no benefit … the pain that they inflict lasts forever.

Not that long ago I had asked for prayer (in a Christian grouping) for those in our armed forces who put their life on the line, by their own choice, for others who cannot. I heard later that ‘someone’ was offended that I would ask for prayer for … s o l d i e r s … Apparently my prayer request was ‘pro war’ …

And, I would do it again.

Every year we take our kids to the local cenotaph, to remember. They have nothing to remember that has touched their lives directly, but that does not erase their need to be reminded of what we are to remember. George Santayana (a Spanish-American poet) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” May that not be said of my children, or their generation.

Many of their friends (and ours) will be spending their ‘holiday’ at the mall, sleeping in or playing video games. And, I do not begrudge them of that, since their freedom to choose how they spend Remembrance Day was bought with the blood of the same men and women we remember. But, as for me, and my house, we will remember.

I am not pro war, anymore than the men and women who choose (and have chosen) to stand in the crossfire for the sake of another. Even a pacifist should be able to humbly sacrifice a thank-you, or … offer a prayer for those who have provided peace for others.

I am idealistic enough to believe that words are better than weapons. But, I am also realistic enough to acknowledge that for peace to come through communication and not weapons, it needs to come from both sides. In our war history, there are those who had no intent to compromise for the greater good. People like Stalin, Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Bin Laden were not individuals whose ideologies included advice, or compromise. They were individuals whose ideologies only included their own self-serving, hunger for power, and dominance over others. And they could not be stopped by peaceful means … every day meant death for innocent people. Until others stepped in (on behalf of the victims) and risked their own lives, and spilled their own blood, to save the lives of countless people.

That is what a soldier does, they risk their lives to save and protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves. It is not the ideal that we, or they, would choose, but, we do not always have a choice. It does not make them pro-war, it makes them pro-life. And they are willing to give theirs, even for those who won’t remember.

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