Back when I was taking my history degree at the University of Windsor I took a course covering the Second World War. A large part of the mark for the course involved writing an essay based on the experiences of a local veteran. Now I've heard it said you learn and appreciate history more when you see it through the eyes of someone who was there and lived it. I still have no reason to question this maxim. As a result of this assignment I met a most remarkable man - Mr. Johnston.
One pleasant fall afternoon I found myself on the doorstep of his home in the east end of Windsor. He invited me in and I learned and grasped more about the experience of war than I could have from reading any textbook...and I've read countless texts on all sorts of topics and sub-topics surrounding WWII over the years. At the time I was serving in a local reserve regiment. Obviously my experience were a complete joke compared with what he went through. But I found that he treated me like a fellow soldier and I greatly respected him for that. While he had slowed down somewhat with age (he was well into his 80's at the time) you could sense from his manner that back in his prime he was a real man's man. I'm sure he would have given some of my old training sergeants a run for their money.
Mr. Johnston spoke of the need for service, for standing up for what you believed in, for doing the right thing even if it may not seem popular today. He participated in the ill-fated Battle of Dunkirk (where he was wounded), fought in Italy (where he was again wounded) and the latter part of the war found him in Europe. All told, the man was wounded 4 TIMES and yet he wasn't about to let "a few scratches" as he called them stop him from what he felt needed to be done.
Sure I did well on the assignment but I haven't a clue what I wrote. I can't recite a single sentence I committed to paper. But I totally remember Mr. Johnston. My biggest regret is that I didn't keep in contact with him. But I carry fond memories of a feisty, determined and well-spoken man (to say nothing of his sacrifice and bravery) with me to this day. He embodied many qualities I feel are sadly lacking within my own generation but which were commonplace then. Thank you for your life lessons, Mr. Johnston. I will carry them with me always.