Pausing to remember the cost of Canadian freedom

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Veteran Gordon Jensen, organizer of the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Ottawa. Photo credit: Carole Morissette / NCR Veterans UN-NATO CANADA.

Drivers along the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway may have noticed an impressive number of Canadian flags behind the Canada Aviation and Space Museum lately.

The 128 flags were erected at a Flags of Remembrance ceremony on Oct. 7, to pay tribute to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans. Each flag represents 1,000 Canadian soldiers and RCMP killed and missing in action. The flags are a poignant display of patriotism – and a visual reminder of the cost of freedom.

“So many people in Canada honestly don’t realize what was involved in the development and growth of the country – the cost of providing the freedom that everyone has,” says Gordon Jensen, organizer of the Flags of Remembrance program in Ottawa. “If you don’t have a family member – a parent or a father or a grandfather who’s still alive to bring these stories to you when you’re growing up – it’s really something at arm’s length.”

For Jensen, the importance of remembrance hits very close to home. A Navy Veteran himself, Jensen grew up with the military – his father was a pilot. Jensen sponsored a flagpole in his father’s honour at the Flags of Remembrance event.

Major Jensen served during the cold war as a fighter pilot, flying primarily CF-101 Voodoo fighter bombers whose main armament was nuclear.

“That was his greatest pride, that he fit into that golden period: his career fit in between Korea and the Gulf Wars,” says Jensen. “My father was very, very proud that he managed to fit in an entire 37-year career without ever having to do his real job [in combat].”

Each of the 128 individual flagpoles can be sponsored by an individual family, at a cost of $200. Fifty per cent of that cost goes to Veterans Voices of Canada (vetvoicecan.org), a non-profit organization that uses the funds to capture the stories of old soldiers and distribute them to schools across the country. The other 50 per cent goes directly to a local charity – chosen by the local organizers. This year’s recipient is the NCR Canadian Adaptive Snowsports, Winter Sports Clinic.

A “hero plaque” is affixed to each sponsored flag, engraved with the Veteran’s name, dates of service, their rank and the name of the sponsor.

“When the flags come down, the family receives the flag and the plaque,” says Jensen, adding that an Alberta resident sponsored a flag and plaque this year on behalf of all veterans.

Jensen notes that the person doesn’t have to be deceased in order to be honoured. In fact, his family has a total of four current sponsorships for flags in Ottawa – his father’s is currently displayed, and three plaques are coming.

“My wife ordered one for myself; I’ve ordered a second one for my brother, and my younger sister ordered one for her son,” he says. “These flags span three generations of veterans, all three branches of the Canadian Forces, and over 80 years combined service.”

Jensen’s brother, Master Corporal Mathew Jensen, is a veteran of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and Resource Management Support, and his nephew, Corporal Travis Quinn, is a retired Aerospace Telecommunication and Information Systems Technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force. In addition, both of his brothers-in-law served, as did ancestors and family members in each generation in Canada and through both World Wars.

“We have members in the military going back to Confederation, so it’s a family tradition to be military but it also means there’s been quite a bit of cost,” he says, adding that the Flags of Remembrance touches a little bit on that cost. “It also gives those who do have those memories the option to reflect.

“We’ve seen a few people walking the lines who have lost parents, who have lost grandparents, and those who still have children over in the conflicts now.”

The Flags of Remembrance are raised at participating communities across Canada. From coast to coast, all flags are raised at the same moment – unifying all chapter locations, tributes, and participating Canadians.

“My hope – for the children of today – is that these flags are a visual reminder,” says Jensen. “For each flag, one thousand families have lost their father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter – in defence of Canadian values.”

The public is welcome to attend the closing ceremonies, which will be held at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum at 11 a.m. on Nov. 18. The ceremony will consist of a short service, lowering of the flags and presentation of the sponsored plaques.

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.