Runnymede Public School students welcomed an extra special guest during their Remembrance Day assembly on Friday, Nov. 9.
Lt.-Col Pascal Godbout, an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, asked his young audience to contemplate the meaning of Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
“How can you pay your respects,” Godbout asked of the grades 4, 5 and 6 students.
“I want you to think about courage. Everyone can be courageous if you do the right thing for the right reason; even though harm can come to you, you are being courageous,” Godbout said, a communications officer and 22-year veteran of the armed forces, who completed a 2003-04 mission in Afghanistan.
“Sometimes, if you see someone being picked on, it’s easier to do nothing, but if you stand up against the bully, you’re being courageous.”
Godbout, whose children attend Runnymede P.S., spoke of stories of courage not only on the battlefield, but here in Canada.
“Soldiers risk their lives here every day,” he said, recalling the tragic death of Sgt. Janick Gilbert, who lost his life during a rescue mission last year to save a father and son stranded on a boat in Nunavut during a walrus hunt in stormy, ice-cold waters.
“The water was rough, but the search and rescue team decided to go anyway.”
It’s his comrades like Gilbert, whom Godbout says he thinks about every Remembrance Day. Colleagues like Lt. Chris Saunders, who was aboard a Canadian submarine in 2004 when a fire broke out.
“He tried to fight it, but passed out because of smoke inhalation,” said Godbout, who went to school with Saunders. “He left his wife and two kids behind.”
Just like his young audience, Godbout said he also attended Remembrance Day assemblies as a kid.
He said he was inspired to join the armed forces by his uncle, who served in the Second World War. He fought in the Battle of Dieppe and was especially afraid because he couldn’t swim. Once in the water, he stood on his radio to keep his head above water before someone rescued him.
Fortunately, Godbout said, he never had to fire his weapon against an enemy while in Afghanistan. His camp was never attacked.
“Although, enemy forces pointed rockets at our camp,” he recalled.
Godbout called the mission an “eye-opening experience.”
“I saw a community destroyed by war,” he said. “There was not a lot of food. People hid at night from bandits who would attack people for their money and food.”
Yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. “I saw schools being built and water pumps being put in place. Our soldiers were making a difference,” Godbout said.
Nine-year-old Grace said her favourite part of the talk was hearing about what happened in Afghanistan.
For Adam, a Grade 6 student, Remembrance Day is a time to think about all the people who have lost family and friends.
Jamie, also in Grade 6, said she is grateful for the freedoms Canada has. “We get to live in a more peaceful time,” she said.