Hundreds pay tribute to veterans

Vincent Ball

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

More than 500 people, including many veterans, their spouses and caregivers, came out for the annual Thank-A-Vet Luncheon on Saturday.
“Yes, this is something I always look forward to,” said Joseph Simich, a 92-year-old Second World War veteran who regularly attends the event.
In addition to a good meal served by a large team of volunteers, Simich and many of the other veterans were given a special wooden box to hold commemorative coins the Thank-A-Vet committee has been presenting to them in recent years. The commemorative coins include engravings of the cenotaphs and war memorials in Brantford, Six Nations, Paris, Burford, St. George and the Mississaugas of the New Credit.
“It’s really, really nice,” Simich said of the box.
Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Simich was 18 when he enlisted to serve overseas in the Second World War. A member of the Cameron Highlanders, a machine gun and mortar support unit, he received training in Brantford, Camp Borden and Halifax before heading overseas.
Simich went into battle on D-Day plus six – six days after the invasion of German-occupied Europe began - and he saw action in Holland and throughout Europe towards the end of the war.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Thank-A-Vet luncheon but Brant MPP Dave Levac said the event is actually older because, prior to the luncheon, the Dutch Club held an annual gathering for local veterans in honour of the Liberation of Holland.
The late Stan Wawzonek of Brantford was a tireless campaigner on behalf of Canada’s war veterans, biking twice across the country in an effort to promote the Two Poppy Campaign to promote vets wearing two poppies instead of one each November.
Wawzonek started the Thank-A-Vet lunches, which were taken over by an organizing committee in 1998.
Levac, who along with Bill Chopp, is the committee co-chair, said veterans, their spouses, widows/widowers and Memorial Cross recipients were invited to the luncheon free of charge.
Members of the public were invited to purchase $30 tickets for the event.
Levac, while acknowledging there are fewer Second World War veterans every year, said there is still a need to recognize the sacrifices of the community’s veterans.
“It remains an important event. This is another way of paying homage to our veterans, another way to show how much we appreciate and respect their sacrifice and service.”
Even though Levac will leave politics prior to the 2018 provincial election, he plans to continue his support of the Thank-A-Vet luncheon.
“I’ve always said that this event has nothing to do with politics. This is about paying homage to our veterans and I plan to remain involved as long as I’m needed and people want me to be involved.”
But the committee recognizes the way the community honours its veterans may have to change.
“We’re looking for a way to pay homage to our new veterans – those who served in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” Levac said. “I think its important to recognize them as well and we may have to modify what we’re doing now so that we can pay tribute to both groups of veterans and their spouses.”
The Thank-A-Vet luncheon included a colour party and speeches from a number of speakers, including Petty Officer First Class Liam Callaghan, Corporal Kaitlyn Manley and Master Bombardier Emma Gould. As well, the committee welcomed special guest Roger Duck, of Digital Duck Inc.
Among the attending dignitaries were Mayor Chris Friel; County of Brant Mayor Ron Eddy; Ava Hill, Chief of the Six Nations Elected Band Council; and Lt. Col. Robert Christopher, Commanding Officer of the 56th Field Artillery Regiment. Walter Gretzky said Grace prior to the meal.