Ron McKenzie lovingly holds his father and grandfather’s medals. Inset: Veteran Affairs at one time engraved the names of the recipient on each medal.

Campaign urges our vets to wear their colours more often

Not just one day to remember: National push asks vets to display badges and medals on Nov. 1 and Nov. 30

A national movement that asks Canadian veterans to identify themselves in public is looking for support from Lake Cowichan vets.

The campaign — dubbed Veterans Among Us — asks veterans to put on their medals or insignia Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 each year.

“There are about one million living veterans in Canada, that’s about one in every 35 of us,” organizer Jeff Rose-Martland recently told the Gazette, from his St. John’s Newfoundland home.

“Remembrance Day is a somber affair, as it should be, but veterans don’t really get a chance to go out and say, “Look at me look what I did,’” he said.

“At the same time we ask citizens to take a look around and see how many veterans you spot during the course of your day.”

The campaign began three years ago when Rose-Martland said he became angry at the government’s treatment of some veterans.

“I was hearing stories about veterans being denied treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and, in some cases, being denied disability pensions once they were released,” the former radio announcer and — now stay-at-home dad — said.

Rose-Martland said he and friends had been talking about gaps in understanding between the veteran and civilian communities and the fact that for many citizens, the mental image “of an old guy in a wheelchair” is what many envision when they hear the word ‘veteran.’

“But that doesn’t reflect the reality; the vast majority of veterans are much younger than that,” he said.

That’s when Rose-Martland came up with the idea of having an awareness campaign, something simple everyone could do.

“And that would be wearing your medals,” he said.

“Then, of course, we realized not everyone had medals, so we broadened the scope a bit to include badges and insignia, anything that indicates you served in the Canadian forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

Ron McKenzie, was in the Canadian Air Force from 1969 until 1982, and is now one of the 353 members of the Lake Cowichan Legion.

“I think (the Veterans Among Us campaign) might be a good idea, but it’s not just the civilians you have to convince,” the 62-year-old said.

“It’s the politicians in the federal government that seem to forget about us.”

But fellow Legionnaire, Ed Salter, said he didn’t believe he would take part in wearing his medals on any other day but Nov. 11.

“I wear them on Remembrance Day to remember those that I was with and my father (who served in both the First and Second World Wars), and uncles,” said Salter, who did about 30 years in the military, first six years in the army, starting in 1950, then an air force hitch that lasted 12 years, then another 11 with the coast guard.

“For myself, to wear (medals) at any other time, well, I’d just feel out of place.”

But, argues Rose-Martland, by participating in the campaign, veterans will help citizens understand veterans are male and female, from all parts of Canada’s cultural mosaic, and are all around them.

“It will promote knowledge and understanding of veterans’ issues in a non-political, non-confrontational way,” he said.

“Instead of elderly men, people will start seeing their friends, neighbours, co-workers, whenever they hear the word ‘veteran.’

“It will give individual Canadians the chance to ask questions about your service, to find out about how we are treating you and to say thanks.”

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