The world has changed but the message is the same. We must never forget. We must listen and learn.
My father, many aunts/uncles, grandparents served in the military and I try not to miss the annual Remembrance Day ceremony held outside every year. During the moment of silence I swear I can feel them with me—a reminder of what has come before and the sacrifices made.
In my mind, I often equate the word ‘veteran’ as someone who is elderly. This however, is far from the reality. There are military veterans walking among us every single day. They’re not wearing a uniform or draped in medals but are an important part of our community. In fact it could be the guy next to you buying groceries.
One such individual is local south Okanagan resident, Retired Cpl. Eric Hentzelt who, in the 1990’s, at age 23 entered the infantry reserves, and then a year later joined the full-time regular forces.
He started his career in Kamloops, BC and then was transferred to Gagetown, NB. Within a few months, he shipped out to what was then the country of Yugoslavia. As part of a NATO peacekeeping unit, the mission was to enforce that all sides in the conflict adhere to the terms of the peace treaty. For Hentzelt, this was a life altering experience.
“The main problem,” he says, “is that we (the peacekeepers) had rules to follow, while the other side had no regulations, decorum, and no desire to accept foreign direction. Having grown up in a peace loving country like Canada, there’s no way I could’ve prepared for the ugly brutality associated with what is now referred to as ethnic cleansing. No war movie or news program,” he states, “no matter how accurate, can come close to the human toll that it takes. The inhumanity and brute cruelty towards fellows humans, regardless of age or gender, is impossible to imagine unless witnessed first hand.”
Hentzelt, with his troop, faced hostilities and experiences that no one should have to go through. He states that the NATO group was “often met with direct aggression of locals who wanted to keep the depravity going. No one could ever come from that and be the same person as they were before. I’d never want any civilian to actually understand because the cost is too high.”
“The Canadian military is mostly a peace-time military,” he says, “and each man or woman is serving their country to the best of their abilities under difficult and demanding circumstances.” Hentzelt points out that the military can be a good place for young people to learn new skills, get a professional trade, all while being housed and fed but it can be stressful too. “You have to have a good attitude, work hard, and be ready to take orders,” he says. “The military,” he reminds us, “often serves communities across Canada with support in natural disasters like floods, wild fires, and ice storms. New exercises, like Mali, have the Canadian military in a support role but still within the conflict zone.”
For Remembrance Day, Hentzelt would like to remind everyone of all ages, that our parents, grandparents, and other family members fought hard to keep Canada free and peaceful so we’d never have to experience such atrocities as those he witnessed in Yugoslavia. “Hundreds of thousands of men and women have served Canada to give us the freedoms we have today. The ability to speak and live freely was paid for in blood and tears, both physically and mentally. We must remember the fact that many service personnel didn’t get a chance to return home to enjoy these privileges. Please be aware and appreciate those who bare the scars, obvious or invisible, and for those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.”
Thank you for your service Cpl. Hentzelt. It is very much appreciated.
I’d also like to note that Hentzelt’s son, Blake, age 19, is now also serving with the military. I wish him a long a successful career.
Lest we forget. Wear your poppy. Go to a Remembrance Day Ceremony. Teach your children.
Originally published November 9, 2018