My grandfather fought in the second world war. I hesitate to call him a "hero" as that word is used all to often, but he was a good man, a young man who answered his nation's call to fight in a war on the other side of the world. This post isn't really about him, but his story helps me frame what I want to talk about.
Gerard Quinn, my father's father, was initially sent to Sicily to run with the infantry for the Allied push into the so-called "soft underbelly of Europe". His tour, like so many others in the region, was far from "soft", and at some point along the way, a canon that hadn't been secured properly, fired and rolled backward and onto my grandfather, crushing his legs.
Fortunately for him (and his future grandchildren I suppose), the Allied position held and he was evacuated to the UK where he, once recovered in hospital, was returned to his company, as they prepared to invade the Netherlands. As a newly injured soldier, this did not favour his chances of returning alive, but Fortune intervened again: he was reassigned... to radio duty. As it turns out, my grandfather's penmanship was so exceptional, the Brass felt his skill would be more useful to the war effort receiving and transcribing messages from inside a helpless tank with a wooden gun barrel.
And so it is that my grandfather survived the War and helped, in his own small way, to liberate this place I now call home. I just learnt today that he was given a medal for his efforts in liberating the Netherlands -- just months before he died.
Today is Dodenherdenking, the Dutch day of remembrance for the war dead. It precedes Bevrijdingsdag, or Liberation Day and consists of an 8pm ceremony much like what you'd find in Canada on November 11th at 11:11. There's the two minutes silence, Taps (though it sounds slightly different), and laying of wreaths... even the Queen is there. I attended the services here in Amsterdam along with thousands of others and let me tell you: those 2minutes of silence: not a sound. Not cell phones, not even undisciplined children or dogs barking. The whole of Dam Square collectively remembered and observed for a full two minutes.
In those moments, as I do every November 11th, I thought of my grandfather, a young, dumb kid, doing what he thought was right at first, and ultimately doing what he could to survive. I'll think of him tomorrow too, while the country celebrates its liberation. I think he would have liked to see that.