It’s an image burned into my consciousness as much as the burns on my dad’s legs.
The first time I remember seeing my dad without pants was when he took me to Kal Beach. He had put on his bathing suit and I remember seeing his legs were badly scarred.
I asked him what happened.
“They got burned in the war, and I don’t want to talk about it,” said my father matter-of-factly.
I would guess I was about seven-years-old when that happened. My father would die five years later, Nov. 1, 1975, when I was 12.
Not once in that period of time from the lake to his passing did I ask him about being overseas in the Second World War, spent mostly in Holland.
I asked my three older siblings if he ever talked to them about his war experience.
“Sorry, Rog, did not talk to dad at all about the war. I think I remember him saying he didn’t want to talk about it,” said the youngest of the three, my brother Don, eight years my senior.
Second-born sister Diane recalled: “I, too, saw his scarred legs when we went to the beach but I got the same response as you.
“He seemed reluctant to talk about his war experiences.”
Oldest-born brother Jim had a couple of stories from dad, one being that he sent half his pay home to his mom, our grandmother Selina, who was a war bride and widow and had three kids at home.
Dad also told Jim the Canadian army was looking for volunteers to go to the Pacific front and fight the Japanese with the further enticement of travelling through Canada and getting some leave in their hometowns, of which Vernon was my dad’s.
“There were rumours around the ranks that the war against Japan was going well and would soon be over,” said Jim.
“So dad volunteered for the Pacific and while he was in Canada, the war with Japan ended. He figured by volunteering to go to the Pacific, this got him home about six months earlier had he stayed in Europe.”
Dad was a war hero, at least to one Dutch family.
After he died, a woman in Holland wrote to my mother in search of William (Bill) Knox who, along with the Canadian forces, had helped defeat the Germans, liberated Holland, and was a hit with her and her family when he stayed with them for a bit. They wanted to say thank you to him and all Canadian soldiers for all they did.
My dad’s father, my grandfather Clarence (Noodles) Knox – a nickname he picked up as a pretty good professional boxer – was gassed in the First World War and died of tuberculosis in 1934, so I never met him.
Never got a chance to talk to him about his war experiences, though I’m pretty sure I can guess what the response would have been.
Just last year, a high school friend asked me to phone her dad, a Second World War soldier, and talk to him for our Remembrance Day supplement. I phoned, he politely declined. He didn’t want to talk about the war.
I’ve heard that response from many veterans over my years as a reporter, and I respect that. I can’t fathom the horrors and atrocities they saw and went through.
Every Nov. 11, I always take a moment to say ‘thank you’ in silence to my dad, grandfather, and all soldiers who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Ceremonies will be different this year, but you can still say thanks. My dad would have like that.
“I do remember that Remembrance Day was always very important to him and remember going with him to the ceremonies many times,” said my sister.