Fred Chapman died in August 2003 a few weeks before his 85th birthday. Never one to burden the system he went for a regular check up tested positive for bladder cancer and died peacefully three months later.
He was a quiet gentle man and a WWII vet. His feelings about his service years were kept close and inside in a quiet but deeply profound and personal way. Like so many of his era and ilk he never spoke much of the war except for yarns about the good times on leave in London or wandering about the English countryside. He rarely mentioned the loss of his brother at Dieppe.
As a result the war to me was more of a social studies subject area and that was my mind set until he died and I started to read his letters home and spent time with his old pictures and memorabilia...stuff I had never seen before.
A few days before he passed he told me what he want me to do with his “things” like favourite pictures, personal mementos and the rest of the “stuff” that clutters our closets, basements and our lives. For the most part it was to go to the Salvation Army the organization he respected the most “because they were the most truly supportive organization of the service man during the war” he used to say.
Before his passing he wanted “everything to go” except for one thing and that thing had to be the subject of a solemn son to father promise. I was to be sure to keep his RCAF uniform as long as I lived. When I died the uniform would be free to go to a museum or some other place where it would be displayed and help other people to remember. It was not that that he wanted to be remembered. What he wanted to be remembered was what the uniform stood for, first by me, and then by others.
So tonight I will spend some time reflecting with that uniform and immersing myself in the memory of the man who wore it. Tomorrow I will be at the Cenotaph, wearing my Poppy, standing silently and remembering. My remembering will be at so many levels with many others, all coming together, paying respects and giving thanks to the many men and women both past and present to whom we all owe so much.