I was present the day the retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire arrived to accept an Award presented to him by Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School. People walked slowly into the large gymnasium, magically transformed into an impressive reception hall, as one by one each seat was filled until eventually there was standing room only. The audience consisted of mostly students, but also veterans, teachers, police representatives, Kitchener-Waterloo council members, and Ontario members of Parliament.
Before he arrived I searched the crowd for veterans looking for those old enough to know what I know about the war in the South Pacific. I even went to a few men I thought qualified yet none of the veterans present had taken part in the fight against the Japanese Imperial Army. Later when I shared my disappointment with an executive of the Royal Canadian Legion, he explained to me that Canadian soldiers never went to the South Pacific and therefore were not well informed about the events that occurred in that part of the world. The Canadian soldiers, he explained, fought in Europe concentrating on Hitler and the German Army. This is why the Holocaust and the horrors surrounding it are so well known in Canada. It was the American Army that focused intensively on the South Pacific – after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. I spoke with this well-informed gentleman for a long time and afterwards told him what he never knew about that war. I wish to thank him for providing the missing piece to something that has puzzled me for so long – why are Canadians always so surprised to hear about my story – why did they not know?
This is genuinely the first time I realized that W.W. II was actually the accumulation of two wars – two gruesome, bitter and sadistic combination of wars – and never the two shall meet. Leaving a path of unforgettable experiences and memories – so much longer than the war itself.
Somehow this insight brought a strange comfort.
Dallaire arrived by plane, was driven to the Lady of Lourdes High School and walked to the podium accompanied by the loud unique tunes of a Great Highland Bagpipe. I had done my research on Dallaire. I already know a lot about him. I know about the time that a teenage soldier pressed a loaded gun in his face as he endured this ‘close to death’ experience in silence and fear. But he shared with us something I didn’t know. His speech was not long and with no notes to guide him. He spoke easy, with passion and conviction as he bravely told us that one of his Army friends, who stood beside him within the genocide experience in Rwanda, committed suicide 4 years ago – after 16 years of suffering under the weight of memories he couldn’t escape.
I forgot to breath a moment and experienced the silence which surrounded Dallaire. I have to admit I didn’t hear much more after that. I so understood Dallaire’s friend and the choices in front of him; and I understood why he chose to end it all.
Dallaire had found the courage to speak about his tortured friend without ever mentioning his own unforgettable anguish. Yet his life has become complicated. Those memories, the same memories as the friend who committed suicide, will remain ingrained in the books he writes.
Dallaire is a courageous man.
Between Dallaire’s speech and my newfound insight I have come to a decision I have been contemplating for quite sometime.
Maybe I can start that second book so many have asked for.
If Dallaire had the courage to come forward and share this personal tragedy – why can’t I have the courage to continue my story? Book two to The Remains of War.