As a boy, I met and heard battlefield stories directly from Smokey Smith, who fought in Italy during World War II with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In combat, Smokey acted alone to hold an important bridgehead on the Savio River against three enemy tanks, two self-propelled guns and about 30 infantry soldiers – all while defending and rescuing a wounded comrade.
Smokey received the Victoria Cross for bravery from King George VI and later became a member of both the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada for his work advocating on behalf of Canada's veterans. When he died in 2005 at the age of 91, his body was placed in the foyer of the House of Commons to lie in state and Canadian government flags flew at half mast. Smokey was only the ninth person to be accorded this honour.
Smokey was a special person. His medals and honors were earned and he wore them proudly. He inspired others and was respected by his peers as a great soldier and by many as a great man. On Smokey's battlefield you did not desert your comrades when they needed help.
Had he been alive this week, I have no doubt Smokey would have said a few choice words about plans by Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino and Prime Minister, Steven Harper to shut seven of nine specialized offices across Canada, including Kelowna, that help special people – our veterans.
Actions speak louder than words. Fantino and Harper have deserted the troops, the veterans and the country. Most importantly, they have not earned the “Honourable” titles they have arrogantly put before their names.
This government owes our veterans the simple dignity of never having to beg for help.