My grandpa is my hero: Remembrance Day is my reminder of how lucky we are

By Ed Wirun, Walmart Canada Market Leader

“Unless you were there, you will never know how bad it really was.”

That’s what my grandfather used to say. John “Jock” MacDonald Milroy grew up in Lethbridge, Alta., during the Great Depression. Times were tough – many went hungry. But tough times make tough people and it didn’t get tougher than my grandpa.

The greatest thing you can do in life is serve your country, my grandfather’s father would say. When the Second World War began in 1939, my 17-year-old grandpa was among the first to sign up.

He saw action as a gunner in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands from 1939 to 1945. He was on the front lines on D-Day when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. He was standing right beside his friend – shoulder to shoulder – when he was killed.

He saw things we could never imagine.

The trauma took a toll on my grandfather. After seven years of war, he shook so bad he couldn’t hold a cup. My grandpa received the “Defender of Britain” medal in 1946 when he was officially discharged.

Remembrance Day is a time to remember the sacrifices our veterans made. Millions gave the ultimate sacrifice. We wear poppies to honour them and all those who fought for our freedoms.

We forget how lucky we are sometimes – November 11 is my reminder.

A couple years ago, I visited Juno Beach in Normandy. It was surreal to be on the same sand where thousands died and my grandfather risked his life.

Walmart Canada was a contributor to the Juno Beach Centre, raising millions of dollars to support the museum in Normandy, France. Walmart held annual national fundraising campaigns for the Juno Beach Centre Association, which owns and operates the centre that honours Canadian heroes from the Second World War.

My grandfather never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him. He considered himself “lucky” because he made it home to his family. Until the day he died, he was extremely proud of what he did for his country.

My grandpa is my hero. He inspired me to join the Canadian Armed Forces, where I learned the importance of leadership, gratitude, resilience, selflessness and dedication.

I applied for the military a week after my 17th birthday – the same age as my grandfather. I entered basic training at CFB Wainwright in Alberta, where I was with one of the first groups in Canada to be trained by regular forces for an eight-week bootcamp.

It was gruelling – we had one day off in over 60 days of training. The schedule included 15-kilometre hikes, obstacle course training, overnight combat training, unmasked tear gas exposure and physical fitness testing. On a good night, you might get five hours of sleep. I was exhausted.

After eight weeks, most had quit, but I made it. I’ve always been so proud of this part of my life.

As a Market Leader, I try to demonstrate the value that our associates owe it to themselves and their team to bring our best effort every day. Whether you’re a soldier or an associate, it’s all about teamwork. We must cross the finish line together – nobody gets left behind.

Together, we can accomplish anything with the mindset that failure isn’t an option.

As we mark Remembrance Day, here’s how you can show your support:

  1. Wear a poppy: It’s easy and this year marks 100 years of the poppy campaign.
  2. Visit a veteran: It’s as simple as talking to a Legion member selling poppies.
  3. Attend a Remembrance Day service: Show your gratitude and give thanks.
  4. Learn the history: Educate yourself by reading, watching or listening to stories.

We will never know how bad it was, but we can be grateful.
Thank you, grandpa. Thank you, veterans. Lest we forget.