Veteran Doug Garrett will be part of the Remembrance Day parade on Queen Street, which he has been for almost 65 years, but he will not be laying wreaths, which he has always done as the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Royal Canadian Legion.
His knees don’t work well enough for that much walking, he says, but at 92, he has done his years of service long enough to hand that role over with pride.
As Sergeant-at-Arms, his duty is to maintain order during meetings and be responsible for the colours and flags.
Garrett says he isn’t the oldest veteran belonging to Branch 124. He can think of at least three as old or older — Blanche Quinn, David Mansfield and Del Sartor. But he’s not sure whether they will be at the ceremony Nov. 11.
He believes he’s the oldest active member, he says, and he is still distributing poppies in the days leading up to the ceremony.
The moment the veteran steps up to the Cenotaph with his poppy box, he is besieged by visitors to town who want a photo taken with him, and who stuff bills in the box in exchange for a poppy, thanking him for his service. His age and his demeanour seem to draw respect, and he becomes a little tearful in appreciation.
The veteran lives by himself now on Shakespeare Avenue, but not for much longer — his daughter has a home with an apartment ready for him, he says. His wife Chris is in long-term care at Upper Canada Lodge, and the routine of his days revolves around daily visits.
“I’m lucky I can get to see her every day,” says Garrett — he just had his driver’s licence renewed for another two years. “I plan my day around it.”
His adult children are scattered across Niagara, but not far away, and he has nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, so he feels well-cared for, he says.
The membership of the local legion branch has been growing in recent years, he says, but it’s hard to get volunteers to help out at the events and fundraisers — it always seems to be the older members doing the work, and they are getting older.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen when we’re not around,” he says, “and you know that’s going to happen.”
Although he can’t do his usual job of laying wreaths, he will, however, raise the flag and lower it at the Remembrance Day ceremony, and he will stand with pride and think not only about those who didn’t come home, those who did, injured, but also increasingly about the local veterans who have died in recent years, and are missed, he says.
“We still remember them, all of them, especially those who paid the supreme sacrifice. The least we can do is remember them one day a year. To me, and to a lot of the Legion members, every day is Remembrance Day.”