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Pembroke Legion hosts honours and awards 0

By Stephen Uhler, OBSERVER MULTIMEDIA JOURNALIST

It remains the sacred duty of the Royal Canadian Legion to ensure Canadians always remember the sacrifices of soldiers, past and present, long after they are no longer here to do it themselves.

Sharon McKeown, vice-president, Ontario Command, told members and guests of Branch 72 of the Royal Canadian Legion Sunday evening, said it has always been their responsibility to be the caretakers of remembrance, honouring and remembering those who willingly put themselves in harm's way on behalf of our country.

"We have a duty to ensure the contributions of those who serve in the Canadian military, past and present, continue to be recognized and remembered," she said, as there exists a real risk this could be lost in popular memory, as the numbers of veterans continues to dwindle.

"It is for that reason we in the legion continue to promote remembrance."

McKeown was the keynote speaker at Sunday's Remembrance Day and honours and awards dinner held at the Legion Hall in Pembroke, which both wrapped up a week of remembrance activities and recognized legion members for their service to the organization.

She said for an organization which started out for and by veterans, the Royal Canadian Legion has expanded into a major part of the community, supporting seniors and youth programs as well as the veterans. On that last item, "Operation Leave the Streets Behind," which started in Toronto as an initiative to help house and support homeless vets, is now being expanded to cover all of Ontario. In time, it is hoped it will be made into a national program.

This is a partnership between The Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command and the Veterans Affairs Canada, which was announced two years ago at the Good Shepherd Ministry in Toronto.

"This is our biggest commitment in years," she said, to help homeless and near homeless veterans, noting those they have helped range in age from 20 to 84.

McKeown said it is important the public continue to think of and thank veterans year round for their sacrifices, and to ensure they are supported.

Bob Denault, president of Branch 72, said on this most important day for the legion, it was heartwarming to see the excellent turn out at the cenotaph, which he thought was one of the biggest crowds yet.

"As Canada's memory, the Pembroke Legion won't settle for anything but the best for our veterans," he said.

Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski praised the ceaseless efforts of the legion to keep remembrance alive, noting the day is fast approaching when people won't be able to thank Second World War and Korea veterans directly anymore. He said he noticed the legion attended each and every service held throughout the area, including in the schools, where the ceremonies continue to get more meaningful and memorial.

"I don't think I've seen more important and poignant services at the schools before," Yakabuski said.

Then, the MPP presented Denault with a Diamond Jubilee Medal, which were struck to mark Queen Elizabeth II's 60th year on the throne. The medal, he said, was being presented to commemorate the branch president's long-standing service both to the Royal Canadian Legion, and the community at large.

Also honoured with a special presentation was Eva Marie Cormier, who was presented the Memorial Cross in memory of her husband, who passed away after having served his country.

In presenting it, Nicole Handspiker-Adams, pension officer with Veterans Affairs, told Cormier she must be very proud of her husband's contributions to his country, which is a nation blessed with peace and freedom.

"When you wear this cross, I hope you will be reminded of the immense gratitude that all Canadians have for your husband's service," she said.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

stephen.uhler@sunmedia.ca

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