Matthew Retmock, The Lord Howe Island Signal
Today is a sad day. Today is not a day for shallow nationalistic chest-beating. Today is a day when we remember the victims of war and express our gratitude to the brave few who made the ultimate sacrifice. Today we thank all of our men and women who have served both at home and abroad, in war and in peace.
The loss of just one life in war has a multiplying effect. The First World War ended over a century ago, yet young Islander Tom Innes’s death left a grieving mother, brother, and two sisters. His siblings lived in my lifetime. His niece lives here today. The grief that was felt then, remains in the hearts of people today.
Tail gunner Larry Thompson’s death over Europe in World War Two had a similar knock-on effect. His many siblings, nieces and nephews – some who are living here today – all felt his loss. In a small community such as ours, every resident experiences a degree of grief.
Another insidious by-product of conflict is the psychological damage suffered by those who are doing what our government has ordered them to do.
My maternal grandfather Jack Browne, who served in New Guinea, sought refuge in the bottle. Alcoholism, violence, and broken families were an additional price paid by our fighting men and women.
Islander Stan Fenton described the effects of humans doing inhuman things. During his service as an elite pilot in Vietnam, Stan undertook a precision bombing strikesuccessfully preventing an American base from being overrun.
The American commander congratulated him, saying how many enemy lives were lost. Stan said he felt bad then, and even worse now.
Today this has been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder and impacts untold numbers of our servicemen and women.
More soldiers have died from suicide, than were killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I’m not going to comment on the rights or wrongs of various conflicts in which our troops have served. I also won’t express an opinion about levels of support for our veterans. This is not the time or place.
Today is about recognizing sacrifice, and service. Today is about gratitude, recognition and appreciation. Today is not a celebration. Today is a sad day.
The words “lest we forget” have never had more meaning.
This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 30 April 2023.