The Hon. Julian Fantino,
Minister of Veterans Affairs
Sun Media, Nov. 11, 2014
When I came into the world in 1942 it was ravaged by war.
Northern Italy, where I was born, was under the brutal Nazi regime. This left me, my mother, and three siblings to fend for ourselves, as my father was constantly being pursued by the Nazi Secret Service.
During these formative years, I learned to live without. The comforts that my children and grandchildren enjoy today weren’t at all imaginable for me and my siblings. But, the one thing my parents were able to give to us was a set of values that would later define how we live our lives – values that are centred around faith, hope and charity.
Charity was something I experienced firsthand with the Allied Forces in post war Italy. I vividly remember the soldiers sharing what little food they had with me — this kind and generous act is forever etched into my memory.
As we approach Remembrance Day, especially as Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs, I can’t help but think about my own personal journey from the streets of post war Italy to Pier 21 in Halifax, where I first stepped foot on North American soil.
From the moment I arrived on the shores of this great nation, at age eleven, I embraced all this country had to offer. I knew that if I worked hard and persevered there would be no limits to what I could accomplish. My 40-year career in law enforcement, which began with a job as a security guard at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, is a testament to this fact. Through much hard work and determination, I rose through the ranks of Canada’s police forces, earning the top job in four of them.
All of this to say that I am grateful — grateful for a nation that has afforded me every opportunity. I’m grateful to live in a land that is peaceful and free, and I am especially grateful for the men and women who have stood on guard for us at home and abroad — on land, in the air, and at sea.
I have had the pleasure of meeting so many of these great men and women. I had the honour of standing on the shores of Juno Beach with many of them this past June when I joined almost 100 veterans of the Second World War in France for commemorative ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
It was on that journey that I came to understand the magnitude of what these great heroes accomplished.
Take 101-year-old Ernest Cote, for example, who served in the Royal 22nd Regiment as a platoon commander. He lost more than 350 of his fellow comrades when his platoon landed on Juno Beach – another 1,600 were wounded. As Mr. Cote told that story, he remained as stoic as I can only imagine that he was on that fateful day in 1944.
I felt this same gratitude for our men and women in uniform when I shook hands with the last Canadian soldiers returning from our Afghan Mission in March and when I broke bread with the families of our 158 fallen men and women on our National Day of Honour.
Today, as our soldiers and military personnel continue to serve with pride, we must understand that as a truly grateful nation we owe an enormous debt to all those who have and continue to serve to protect our cherished way of life.
For immigrants like me and my family, Canada represented a land of opportunity, and it remains today a beacon of hope for those in search of a peaceful, tolerant, and free society.
This Remembrance Day, I encourage all Canadians to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of our service men and women — past and present. I invite everyone to reflect on our great nation’s impressive military history, and to take a moment to honour the service and sacrifices of those who have kept Canada strong, proud and free.
Lest we forget. (shurely ‘lest we forget me?!’–ed.)
Number of personal references:
“I” – 21
The royal “we”–5