As the annual Guelph Veterans Panel commenced Friday morning at Our Lady of Lourdes, trustee Joe Tersigni placed an empty chair beside the 10 veterans present.
“Every year, there are less and less World War II veterans,” said Tersigni who placed the chair in the memory of those veterans who attended the panel in the past.
Tersigni was a former history teacher at the high school and has been organizing this event every year since its inception.
The panel in its 11th year saw veterans from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and United Nations Peacekeepers share their stories with over 100 grade 10 history students after they were cheered and applauded as they entered the library.
Veterans on the panel spoke about their life during the war, their struggles with PTSD, life after the war, their love for Canada and the importance of freedom.
“A veteran as far as I’m concerned is someone who enlisted in the military anytime. Also, our first responders because when you enlist, you sign a paper and in reality, that paper is actually a blank cheque payable to your nation for any amount they require. Up to and including your life,” said Vietnam War veteran David Noonan.
“And we sign this willingly,” he told the students in front of him.
“Enjoy your freedom. A lot of people paid for it,” said Noonan.
Veterans in the panel included Eleanor Freeman from the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, UN Peacekeeper Michael Seitz, Vietnam War Vet David Noonan, Korean War Vet Seaman Michael Bladon, Royal Canadian Air Force sergeant Grant Johnston, UN Peacekeeper John Ewasick, Private Aidan Loster from the 11th Field Regiment, UN Peacekeeper Moe Ferris, Royal Canadian Combat Engineer William Irving and UN Peacekeeper Jaques De Winter.
Tersigni said every year, he sees the enthusiasm within the veterans to come to the school to meet with the students.
“To me, this is a defining moment for young people. It’s something I could never get from a textbook. For kids to shake a hand of a veteran, I think it’s so important and so special and that’s why we keep doing it every year,” said Tersigni.
Canadian Women’s Army Corps veteran Eleanor Freeman said if, given the chance, she would relive the war all over again to be able to serve Canada for the sheer love she has for the country.
“Women in the war opened the ways for all women showing them that they can do anything,” said Freeman.
After the panel, school staff and veterans gathered outside to plant three out of 73 tulip bulbs sent to them by the Netherlands government to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dutch liberation in the coming year.
Students will be planting the rest of the bulbs so they bloom in the coming Spring to commemorate the 75th anniversary in May.