We see them every Nov. 11: A confetti of striking colours emblazoned across veterans' chests as we honour those who fought for Canada's freedom and the freedom of others.
From 'freebies' shared with civilians to those awarded for having the courage to serve in the trenches, from honours for maintaining tenuous peace in war-torn regions to those for tours of duty in some of the world's most forbidding areas. They belong to Canada's warriors. To Canada's peacekeepers.
And they reveal the secrets of battles fought, of trials and tribulations persevered, of sacrifices made in the shaping of our nation and in helping it claim its spot on the world stage. Here are the tales behind the decorations.
Tom Hoppe, 43
Sergeant, Lord Strathcona's Horse, Kingston
"I had no intention of getting medals. There are always trophy hunters, that's human nature. Maybe to some, a medal is a trophy. To me, it's not. I didn't say. 'I'm going to be a hero.' There's something to do. You get it done."
1. Meritorious Service Cross
"Bosnia, 1993. They called it a peacekeeping mission, but I totally disagree with that term. It was a full-out war. The term peacekeeping is a myth. … I worked in a patrol of eight guys. We were involved in a number of incidents, a number of firefights. The medal is just not for me, its for the eight guys, without whom I wouldn't have been able to do what I had to do. It's for leadership."
2. Medal of Bravery
'Three or four kids were under sniper fire [in Visoko, outside Sarajevo.]I went out with another guy and pulled them out. The Meritorious Service medal and Medal of Bravery were both given for the same tour. At that time – it's since changed – that made me the most decorated Canadian soldier since Korea."
3. Special Service Medal
"For serving in NATO in Germany. You get it for serving 30 days in theatre. I was there for five years."
4. The Peacekeeping Service Medal
"Everybody got this. It's for being on a peacekeeping tour. For peacekeeping anywhere in the world.
"Peacekeeping – this big myth that we go over and hand out flowers and build schools. That's part of it, but you can't do that until there's peace. Peacekeeping is war. We put this perception in people's minds that it's safer."
5. United Nations Peacekeeping Protection Force Medal
"This was specific for peacekeeping in Bosnia. Sarajevo was just blown to crap. I sat on a hill overlooking the old ski jump from the Olympics and parts of the city, watching it constantly shelled."
6. The Canadian Forces Decoration
"This is for 12 years of good service. Nothing special. If you get some jail time, you're not going to get it. I did my job."
Andrew Bogle, 86
Seaman, Royal Canadian Navy, Calgary
"A lot of people don't know what medals mean. Kids look at the medal, and say, 'Oh, look at the colours!' They like that, but it doesn't mean much to them. I don't feel bad. They don't know any better. I think they should. It's part of our history."
1. The '39-'45 Star
"Being a star, it's a nice medal. It's a campaign medal."
2. The France-Germany Star
"We used to escort troops and supplies across from Britain [to]France. I was a helmsman, steering the ship, There were enemy submarines. I saw the SS Cuba get sunk. It was an Allied troop ship, I think it was French. It was torpedoed and going down by the stern, 250 crew, only two were killed. We picked up survivors. There was always a chance of being sunk ourselves, as the sub was still there. You were so busy picking up survivors, you don't think of the danger so much. It could have been me."
3. Volunteer Service Medal
"It was issued to Canadians who were in the service, but if you were overseas, there is a little bar with a maple leaf on it that tells people you were overseas."
4. The War Medal
"Everybody got that. If you were in the war, you got it. We escorted convoys in the North Atlantic. Oh, I remember the cold, the wet, the fog, the ice. I saw 30- and 40 -foot waves on the North Atlantic. I've not seen that anyplace else."
5. The Russian Medal
"For being up in the Arctic during the war. It was issued by the British Navy. It was sent to me in the mail. Canadians have never issued one. It doesn't matter. I have the Arctic Star from the Russians and that's enough."
6. The Arctic Star
"Murmansk and Archangel are up in the Arctic. In Russia. Not a lot of Canadians went to Russia. During the war, we escorted supply ships. Picked up the convoys in Scapa Flow in Scotland and escorted them to Russia. North of the Arctic Circle. If you were torpedoed. we were told, you had about two minutes to live in the water, it was so cold. … The medal was issued by the Russians. We had to submit our names to the Legion and they were sent to the Russian embassy. In 1977, the Russian ambassador came out west, came to the North Calgary Legion 264 and pinned it on my chest. We had a ship's crew reunion in Ottawa in '89. And we were asked to go to the Russian embassy for afternoon tea. We never did get anything from the Canadians. I kind of thought we should."
Tom White, 74
NATO Signal Corps, Egypt and Palestine 56th Canadian Signal Unit, Congo 57th Canadian Signal Unit, New Victoria, N.S.
"I'm proudest of the Canadian Peace Service Medal. Nobody ever counts the lives that are saved in a peacekeeping mission. We had people killed in Palestine. We had IED and mines and accidents. We made boxes to bury these guys in out of crates."
1. Special Service Medal with NATO Bar
"I have one bar on it for NATO [Europe]and one bar on it for Alert, which is up in Ellesmere Island. I was a construction engineer; rigging steel, putting up a new hangar. Cold! It goes down to about 45 below there. It's dark for six months and bright for four. Alert is the hardest on a person. You're in isolation. You sleep and eat and work. What else can you do when it's so cold?
"A bar for Europe – Germany with two infantry brigades. It's a lovely place. Canadians were there for 30 or 40 years and it was one of the best postings a Canadian could have."
2. Canadian Peace Service Medal
"For doing a UN tour. In addition to a campaign medal for where you're at."
3. United Nations Emergency Force Medal (Suez Campaign)
"We were living in tents in the desert as part of a communications squadron. An encampment about the size of my back yard. Nothing like what they got now. I was on guard duty, and a Palestinian broke in and was stealing cameras. I apprehended him, took him prisoner. He began to run away and I had to make a call – shoot him or stab him. I stuck him with my bayonet. He was in hospital for three weeks. Alive today, as far as I know."
4. UNTSO Medal (Palestine Campaign)
"I'm not anti anything. You go out in the morning in your jeep, the Arabs are waving at you, smiling. By noon, they were stoning you! By suppertime, they're waving again. The Arabs seemed to change their mind [with]whatever they hear on the news that day."
5. UNTSO Medal (Congo Campaign)
"I was a signal corps dispatch rider in the Congo. One night, I made a mistake. I was out 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and I got ambushed. I got beat up. By the natives. Congolese rebels, eh. I was knocked unconscious. Irish troops found me and took me to an Indian field hospital. I'm deaf in one ear since then. I just got the Congo medal."
6. Queens Golden Jubilee Medal
"We call these [last three]'freebies.' It depends on what your job is. I was director of the peacekeeping association. Somebody, in their wisdom, wrote a letter and said, 'Tom deserves one of them. He's working for the veterans.' Any medal in the military that the civilians and the military get, we call 'freebies.'