McGregor Says: From a different perspective

Remembrance Day flybys take on varied meaning for one older veteran.

by Jim McGregor/Special to the Langley Times

This weekend, when we are gathered at the local cenotaphs, we will all be waiting for that dramatic moment when the aircraft flypast and we feel that tingle of excitement as the propellers whine and pull the aircraft back into the November sky.

We hear them before we see them and then someone in the crowd says “Look, over there, they are coming in from the west.”

The crowd turns and applauds as the vintage airplanes skim by, almost too close it seems, but even that adds to the excitement.

After one Remembrance service I was having a coffee with a veteran sipping on his hot toddy and others were asking him about his array of ribbons and medals proudly displayed on his chest. Quietly, he told them what each represented and everyone was impressed with his service record.

One of the guests asked, “Do you get the same thrill when the planes flyover as we do?”

“No. Not at all,” he replied. He went on to explain that there were endless hours of marching and slogging, and then suddenly someone would hear the drone of an aircraft engine. Was it one of ours or was it one of theirs? Where was it coming from? Was it coming out of the sun or above the clouds?

Where do we take cover? Behind that small group of boulders or under those small scrub trees? Neither refuge provided much protection for the high-calibre bullets that would come screaming from the cannons. Then someone would shout, “Look over there, they are coming in from the west.”

Often, they were reconnaissance planes, tracking and photographing troop movements or possibly aircraft heading back to base for refuelling and rearming. But, until the planes were visible and on top of them it was hard to tell if they were friend or foe. A heart-stopping moment for sure.

Ever since that conversation, I remember that when those planes come in low and fast and I think about having only a second or two to make that decision to either stands fast in ranks or scatter for cover.

How incredibly fortunate I am that I can stand here quietly and watch them come out of the sun and head off into the distance.

Having listened to veterans who experienced battle, I have noticed there is never any Hollywood glamour in their stories. I hear about mud and endless rain and rotting feet and mouldy bread and dysentery and watching friends die beside them.

So if it happens to be a rainy day or a freezing cold day when I’m standing at the cenotaph, I don’t complain. I can surely endure a couple of hours in the rain and the cold knowing that I have hot coffee and soup and sandwich waiting at home.

They had none of that.

No I won’t duck for cover when the planes fly over, but I will certainly give thanks for all those who had to.

At least that’s what McGregor says.

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