For more than 20 years, World War II veteran Robert Spencer has attended every Memorial Day event in Ottawa.
Spencer, who fought in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as part of the 15th Canadian Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery, said, “I think this is very important.
In any ordinary year, he stands with his comrades at the National War Memorial today, and stands with great reverence.
This is no ordinary year. For one thing, there is a global pandemic that puts a brake on public meetings. For another, Spencer is just 100 years old.
So instead of a formal ceremony, he should settle for a parade.
Spencer’s family, friends and comrades – including former Chief of Defense Staff Walter Notinsike (retired) and members of his old regiment – attended a (socially remote) ceremony outside his Ottawa home on Monday. In the past, their drivers were shouting aving birthday wishes.
“It’s a great celebration and everyone is great,” Spencer said, shining through his face mask.
Volunteers from all over Canada sewed a quilt on this occasion. His daughter Catherine Spencer-Ross wrapped it around Spencer on the show.
“The whole idea is to give you a hug, so here it is,” she says.
When asked if he would like to reach a century, Spencer said, “You did it with gratitude – with a big belly laugh.”
He knew he was one of the lucky ones. During the war Spencer received very close calls – moments when he felt his number had increased. He landed in Normandy when he was just 23 years old, a few weeks after the D-Day landing. He is still haunted by the memory of the tank driver who was killed in the moment by flying sharp gunfire.
“He was sitting next to me,” he said. “It’s a very difficult time. But you have work to do and you’re done.”
This year will be difficult for Remembrance Day Spencer. Thanks to COVID-19, he could not personally share it with other veterans.
“It’s terrible, so frustrating, not being able to do what you want to do, being close to people,” he said.
“I’m lost. You can do nothing about it. But I will lose it.”
Watch: War veteran Robert Spencer marks Memorial Day in an epidemic
As of March 2020, there are approximately 26,200 World War II veterans alive in Canada, according to Veterans Affairs. Their average age is 95.
Veteran Affairs Minister Lawrence McAle said the pandemic restrictions on public meetings meant the government should ask people not to attend any events in person. Celebrations are being reduced across the country.
“There will be a little celebration together [Royal Canadian Legion] It gives full respect to the veterans, “said Macaulay.” But again, with the pandemic, we have to be very careful … “
So Spencer spends the day with his memories. “I keep thinking about the past. The people we lost … the whole experience.”