Death stalks us all…and its arrival can be sudden and unexpected, or it can take its time as it wears us down. As soldiers, we never know what plans death has in store for us. And so we simply carry on. Could that be why it is said that old soldiers never die, they simply fade away?
Today we come together—as we ought to everyday—to remember not only the old soldiers who are simply fading away, but also those who left us as young men in the flower of their youth.
We often speak of our fallen but forget that they stood shoulder to shoulder with those we are still blessed to have among us. We forget that together we shared hardships, and as one, we walked through the valley of death, carrying our soldierly possessions on our backs and ready to do harm on whoever stood in our path.
Some of our comrades remained in that valley, resting in unknown graves. Others returned, no longer the innocent young men we were when we entered the valley. Many of us aged prematurely, our youthful ages engraved on our faces and in our eyes. We witnessed things no young man ought to witness—the horrors of war, and the suffering of the defenceless.
We can never forget the smells of rifle oil, of gun smoke drifting across our vision, of helicopter fuel when the rotors started their whining, or of our sweat-stained uniforms. Nor can we forget the exhaustion when we laid our heads down to take brief respite from hard days. The heat and cold and rain have become intertwined with our DNA.
Memories of those who fell alongside us will forever remain etched on our minds, but we ought to never forget those who are still with us. Our shadows silently reach out and touch those of our other comrades-in-arms—as fellow veterans.
Together we sacrificed our youth in service of others. Regardless of our mustering, beit infantryman or gunner, tanker or sapper, signaller or chef, we were all small cogs in a large machine. As the living and the dead, we all served.
Age has now wearied us and made us more frail than we would wish to admit. Small events or triggers suddenly make us recall something funny or sad that happened, but it also makes us realise that we had a common purpose: to serve our country and our people.
We did so with honour and pride.
Serving others was the greatest gift we could give the defenceless and the vulnerable. We all served. The guns of war have long gone silent, yet we are, and will forever remain, ‘veterans’.