Acts of remembrance aren’t limited to just one day in November, remembrance is ongoing for veterans.
“I think Remembrance Day is more for the civilian population to pay homage to the men and women [who] over the last 149 years… have put their life on the line to make this country what it is,” said Retired Air Force Sgt. Maxine McKellar.
“The military, the police the veterans, they know what it means,” she said, “we know what it means. We fought hard to be where we’re at.”
Whether it has been at war, peacekeeping or at home, the military’s service and sacrifice is ongoing.
“Our veterans…deserve to have this one day for the civilian population to recognize them,” she said.
McKellar retired in 2001 after 25 years in uniform. Over the years, she has seen both the rewards and sacrifices of serving.
She is proudest of being the first female Sergeant of the Honour Guard in Cold Lake.
It took some convincing to get her to accept the position.
After talking with her husband and the base’s Chief Warrant Officer, McKellar decided to accept the position.
“He convinced me to do it and I’m so glad he did,” she said.
The honour guard does all the ceremonial parades, including welcoming dignitaries to the base.
When she accepted the position, McKellar hadn’t done a lot of drill practice in a long time.
“I was very nervous and apprehensive,” she said.
As part of the honour guard, McKellar participated in both the Calgary Stampede Parade and the Edmonton Klondike Days parade in 1999.
“And, of course, we did the Remembrance Day parades,” said McKellar.
The best part of being on the Honour Guard was getting to meet people both in and out of the military.
A meeting that stands out to her was when they went to Lac-La-Biche, Alta.
As she and other members of the guard stood waiting for the parade to start she heard someone calling out ‘sergeant’.
“I thought something had happened,” she said.
It turned out the person calling was a Second World War veteran.
“He comes up and he grabs my hand and just shakes it,” said McKellar.
“He was so pleased to just meet us and to have the military up in Lac-La-Biche,” she said.
The veteran shared his history with McKellar.
“Now I wish I’d wrote it all down,” she said.
Occurrences like this where the guard was enthusiastically greeted and thanked was commonplace.
“We should have been thanking them,” she said, “which we did.”
McKellar thought it was ironic for the older veterans to be thanking her.
“The reason I was there was because they had sacrificed what they had previously,” she said.
The whole experience as Sergeant of the Honour Guard was awesome said McKellar.
Originally from Saskatchewan, McKellar joined the Canadian Forces as an Aircraft Structures Technician in Regina in 1976. As part of her trade she worked on and fixed aircraft.
“In the World War Two days I would have been considered Rosie the Riveter,” she said.
After enlisting, she completed her basic training at Cornwallis, N.S. and her trades training in Borden Ont.
At the time that she joined, there were only about 19 women in her trade and 400 men.
“It was challenging to say the least,” she said.
In the early days of her career, McKellar encountered both people who felt women shouldn’t be in the military and people supportive of her career choice.
“You had to have a tough skin,” said McKellar.
She remembers one time when she was working on armoured personnel carriers in the welding shop in Winnipeg when a corporal came to the desk to get something welded.
“They sent him back to the welding shop,” she said, “and this guy kept peeking in.”
McKellar eventually asked him if he was looking for someone. His response was that he was looking for Max the welder and asked, where was he?
“I said ‘I’m she’,” said McKellar.
She said that she encountered a lot of situations like that at the start of her career.
McKellar served at postings throughout Canada including Winnipeg, Greenwood, N.S. and Edmonton, where she met her husband.
Her husband Keith also served in the Forces for 25 years. He started as a medic with the Royal Canadian Light Infantry Horse Artillery. In 1985 he re-mustered to become a Search and Rescue (SAR) technician.
Both McKellar and her husband finished their careers in Cold Lake.
Looking back on her career, she is immensely proud of what she achieved.
“I have to say that my military career is one of my proudest achievements in my life,” said McKellar.
Like many veterans, reminiscing about her career brings back both happy and difficult memories, especially as Remembrance Day approaches.
“It’s emotional,” said McKellar.
Her career took her across Canada however she was never deployed overseas.
Spending her career at home doesn’t mean she didn’t lose close friends and coworkers.
The dangers in Canada come from training accidents, crashes and dangerous operations such as the search and rescue work her husband did.
In the 1980s two Hercules aircraft crashed near Edmonton in a training exercise several soldiers died including a close friend of McKellar’s family.
One of the hardest losses was a helicopter crash that occurred when McKellar and her husband were posted to Nova Scotia.
“We hung around with those families,” she said.
The families would get together on Friday nights to play card games, they would have barbecues in the summer and their kids played together.
After the crash that killed her friends, McKellar struggled to explain it to her kids.
“Trying to explain to a six and seven-year-old how come their friends don’t have dads anymore,” said McKellar, “and they know that their dad did the same thing.”
McKellar said that serving in the military means going through these ups and downs.
“The pain of losing friends…seeing your friends and their children moving on without their significant other,” said McKellar.
As discussions of the losses and sacrifices increase in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day the painful memories can come flooding back.
“It just brings back lots of memories and lots of pain,” she said, “at the same time you remember the good times.”
“You have to remember that they were…doing something that they loved, absolutely loved,” said McKellar.
It doesn’t matter whether a soldier is hurt or dies deployed overseas or at home in Canada, the sacrifice and the courage is the same.
“I think we all join up and put that uniform on to serve our country in any way our country asks us to,” said McKellar.
“Whether we die on foreign soil or Canadian soil it’s all one in the same,” she said, “we’re serving our country.”
Everyone who serves know that they may be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice one day.
“I’m so glad that my husband and I didn’t have to make that sacrifice but many of our friends have,” she said.
“They’re heroes, every last one of them,” said McKellar.