(Volume 25 Issue 4)
By Jim Scott
Poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month,” and so far, he has not been wrong.
In the Ottawa area we were all informed on April 6th that a courageous young man, Jonathan Pitre, had died. Jonathan lived his nearly eighteen years with a severe case of epidermolysis bullosa, a painful skin disease that caused his entire body to break out in wounds at the slightest touch. Despite his constant pain, he was well known in the Ottawa area for his dream of playing hockey and his unyielding effort to find joy and some positive upside to his travails. His mother, Tina Boileau, gave everything, including her stem cells, to give her son a semblance of happiness and hope for the future. Heroic medical interventions were not enough to give Jonathan one more day of life, but his legacy of selflessness and courage will be eternal.
Within days a wider tragedy unfolded when the team bus of the Humboldt Broncos collided with a tractor trailer on a Saskatchewan highway. Young men, likewise in the prime of their lives, were killed and injured in numbers that shook the entire country. Sixteen players and team officials lost their lives. The families of whom they were a part were shattered, and so too were the hundreds of families who hosted them, and others like them, in their homes.
In this hockey-mad country, there are few who do not feel a personal perspective on the theme of tragic loss, opportunities cut short, and the cruelty of random events taking from us worthy sons who should have enjoyed long lives and great achievements. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian girls and boys play hockey and attempt to rise up its ranks to fulfill dreams of glory at premier levels.
(Older versions continue to fool themselves that their personal skill levels have simply gone unrecognised). It is a tie that binds our population, including newcomers from parts of the world where ice is only otherwise known to cool drinks.
As a military magazine Esprit de Corps has spent nearly thirty years making Canadians aware of the young men and women who work diligently to be the world’s best in the profession of arms. Like their sports counterparts, they enter voluntarily into a world where the physical and mental demands are beyond the scope of the average citizen’s daily life.
In the military world it is accepted that the risk of death and injury is not ancillary to their activities, but indeed is an ever-present corollary to training in the first place. Recruits are trained on vehicles and weapons whose purpose is to survive combat and deliver death and injury to others. Even peace-time missions ask more of vehicles, ships and aircraft, and the people who operate and maintain them, than the rest of us encounter on city streets and country highways ever.
I will say on behalf of all Esprit de Corps staffers past and present that our editorial mandate has never been to glorify military exploits. We are proud, of course, of our nation’s military achievements but the record is too redolent of family and personal loss to offer a solid grip on ‘glory.’ The hope instead is that the general reader is reminded of the daily minutiae and decades-long efforts that go into preparing a country and its people for the variety of contingencies that may befall it. We know the military is a tough business. We believe we shouldn’t wait until a plane crashes or a soldier is wounded for our recognition to be re-ignited.
As we watch millionaire hockey players contend again for Lord Stanley’s illustrious mug, we sometimes forget these young men are from small towns. They worked hard and suffered much and rode on buses like the one that was shattered in Saskatchewan. Many are called, says the bible, but few are chosen. Most only dream of what could be and carry on with the more mundane task of getting by. For those who get to don a uniform or a prized jersey, let us never forget the sacrifices made by the person within it.