Thursday, December 23, 2010

George Rusu of Ottawa is awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism

The media make use of the words “hero” or “courage” much more easily than I do in my book Courage Rewarded. One organization that I admire which uses a very strict definition of courage is the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Each year, since 1896, they have selected a small number of people for awarding the Carnegie Medal for acts of unusual heroism. According to their criteria, only civilians in Canada or the United States who knowingly risk their own lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person are eligible. Persons not eligible for awards include those whose normal duties require them to perform such acts (such as policemen or soldiers) and members of the immediate family. Thus, selection for the Carnegie Medal is a rare and highly respected honour.

One of those selected in 2010 for the Carnegie Medal for heroism is George Rusu, who came to the aid of a woman being attacked outside the drug store where he worked in Ottawa. Hearing the woman’s screams, and with no hesitation, Rusu rushed out and struggled with the attacker, being stabbed several times as he fought to save the woman. Both Rusu and the woman survived and required hospital treatment. The woman credited Rusu with saving her, stating: “he came to my rescue above and beyond the call of duty and I shall forever be grateful to him for that.” Congratulations George Rusu!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building Dedicated to Hong Kong Hero Ronald Routledge

In late 1997, I wrote an article for Canadian Military History Magazine about (Sergeant Ronald Routledge), who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for courage while he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese in Hong Kong. I had long forgotten about it. I was therefore quite surprised by news that I received during a book signing at Indigo Kingston on November 13. Someone who bought a copy of my book, a retired member of the Canadian Forces, had just attended a ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Kingston for the dedication of a building to the memory of Ronald Routledge as part of the Forces Communications and Electronics School. Ronald Routledge had passed away by now, but his son had been invited to attend the ceremony.

This news took my thoughts back to 1998. That summer, I received a telephone call from a Signals Corps veteran who gave me some praise for the article, mentioning that he had known Ronald in the post-war military, but no one had known he had won the DCM. The caller told me that Ronald had been invited to be on the saluting stand for the march past during the Signal Corps annual reunion at Kingston and he invited me to join them. Unfortunately, I could not make it up and regretted missing seeing the honour paid to Ronald Routledge that day. However, with the dedication of Routledge Hall, perhaps I might have some satisfaction from the thought that my article in 1997 may have helped bringing this well-deserved honour to this unassuming but courageous soldier.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Article in The Canadian Army Journal

I was gratified to see my article "Courage under Fire: Defining and Recognizing the Act" published in The Canadian Army Journal, V 13.1. It pulls together all the thoughts about courage that I wrote in my book Courage Rewarded and so is a much better discussion of the subject. I hope the article is relevant to the readers of the Journal, many of whom have experienced fear and courage in Afghanistan and so may have their own opinions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering Veterans of the War of 1812

In the September 2010 issue of Esprit de Corps magazine, I was quite taken by Robert Smol's editorial in which he lamented the lack of a national memorial to the British and Canadian soldiers who died defending the Canadas in the War of 1812. It so surprised me when I realized that, like everyone else, I had not been aware of the need for a memorial to those men and women from that distant past who were no less heroic and patriotic than those of 2010. What a pity!

I certainly support everything Smol has written. In my book, Courage Rewarded, the first chapter had originally been about courage and reward in the War of 1812. But when historian Jack Granatstein reviewed the original manuscript, he recommended I remove that chapter because the contribution by the British army was so large that it did not seem to fit. He recommended I publish it elsewhere, and this was done when it appeared in the fall 2008 issue of The Canadian Army Journal. I was pleased that it was finally published because, in my research for that chapter, I was very impressed by the stories of exceptional courage exhibited in the fierce fighting that swept over so many parts of what are now the peaceful farmlands of Ontario and Quebec. Those courageous souls who readily flocked to the colours (not all the residents were so patriotic) have been forgotten, except for the rare books that are published but are read by only those most dedicated to that period of our military history.

The one oasis of memory which came to my attention recently is that of The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Regiment. Annually each February, the Regiment holds a banquet in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel "Red George" Macdonell who led the attack in 1813 across the ice of the St. Lawrence River against the American fortifications at Ogdensburg, New York. He certainly deserves to be remembered as one of the heroes of that era.

But we should not forget so many deserving others. One of these who immediately comes to my mind is Captain John Jenkins, from New Brunswick, who led the right column in that attack on Ogdensburg. He was wounded by terrible grape shot fired by the defenders and, despite this, he carried on until he collapsed from loss of blood. He survived his wounds, but lost one arm and was left with his other arm permanently disabled. Regrettably, he received no reward for his dedication to duty, and was even refused a pension despite a plea from Macdonell. It is men like Jenkins that deserve to be remembered even though almost 200 years have passed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

War and Courage in the Korengal

I believe Sebastian Junger has written what should be a classic account of men in battle in his recently published book, War. It should rank with the other classics which include Anatomy of Couragee by Lord Moran, Firing Line by Richard Holmes, Morale: A Study of Men and Courage by John Baynes,and Men Against Fire by S.L.A. Marshall, among others. Like the best of these accounts, Junger immersed himself in the experience of combat, in this case by voluntarily joining an outpost of American troops under constant threat of attack by insurgents in a remote Afghan valley. During this time, he thoughtfully observed the behaviour of the soldiers around him, throughout the many periods of boredom interspersed with deadly actions. He became as close as possible to being one of them, feeling fear while under fire, sadness when some were killed, thus enabling him to speak with authority about the psychology of battle of the common soldier in the 21st century. This makes his account essential reading for understanding to-day's wars, as the reaction of twenty-year old men in 2010 is not the same as the young soldier of 1942 or 1914.

Junger was mostly impressed by the dynamic of the group that created courage in battle, as he saw it before his eyes in the Korengal: "Combat fog obscures your fate - obscures when and where you might die - and from that unknown is born a desperate bond between the men. That bond is the core experience of combat and the only thing you can absolutely count on.... Loyalty to the group drove man back into combat - and occasionally to their deaths - but the group also provided the only psychological refuge from the horror of what was going on."(p. 239-40) This is a strong reiteration of the reality of the importance of group solidarity which had been recognized for some time; it is only the way it is reflected in young combat soldiers that differs in 2010, but this difference is worth understanding.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Experience at the Canadian War Museum

In the spring of 2010, I came up with the idea that I should try to have a book signing at the Canadian War Museum. Some of my gook signings at Chapters stores had been so successful, I figured one at the Museum should be worthwhile. One of the keys of a successful book signing is to make contact with book buyers that have an interest in the Canadian military, and where better than at the Museum. So I sent off an email to the man who is in charge of purchasing for the joint Museum of Civilization and War Museum. After some months of discussion with him and others, they approved a limited book signing. This did not receive final approval until early August, so I chose the Saturday of 21 August, from 1 to 4 p.m.

On arriving, just before 1 p.m., I was stunned to see a crowd of of CF personnel in the Boutique, lined up to finalize their purchases. I rushed to set up my layout on the table by the door but by the time this was done, they had all left, as their buss was departing. I later learned that two busloads of CF personnel had been there that morning. I had missed the boat! Following them, the traffic through the boutique was somewhat disappointing: Families with children and others who were more of the general "tourist" types who had little or no interest in military history. In the end, I only sold five books, where I had originally hoped to sell at least 10 as I had done in my best days at Chapters stores. One interesting sale was to a Chinese exchange student, studying at the University of Toronto, who was there with a busload of Chinese tourists. We had a friendly, casual conversation and then, without prompting from me, said he wanted to buy both of my books. A pleasant surprise! Late the day, I also had a good long conversation with three people who wanted to talk abut my book and my understanding of the meaning of courage. One of them was a retired miner from Elliot Lake, in town on a holiday. It was a good conversation, but none bought any book.

So in conclusion, it showed me that the marketing and sales of books was more unpredictable than I should assume. Keep trying. Maybe we will try again at the CWM in June; and will start in the morning to perhaps catch an CF personnel who I was told always come in the morning.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Signing on 19 June and Sale to a RC Dragoon

I thought I would be smart and have a book signing on June 19, the Saturday before Father's Day at the largest book store in Ottawa, Chapters on Rideau Street. I forgot however about what happens on a beautiful warm day in June when there are four festivals going on. Everyone was out walking, cycling or touring one of the festivals. Consequently the foot traffic was very light, reminiscent of the volume I recalled on the winter storm day in March. In the end, I sold five books which might be considered satisfactory, considering the volume of people in the store, most of whom I considered not of the right type to ever be interested in my book. I did have one satisfying sale, that to a young female who informed me that she was a radio operator in a Bison armoured vehicle with the Royal Canadian Dragoons and she had just come back from Afghanistan. She seemed keen on buying my book and considered the topic important for her to read about. That was satisfying

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Reader Rewards the Author

I just received an e-mail from the publisher of my book Valour in the Victory Campaign. It provides one of those rare events when I am rewarded by someone who wants to buy one of my books. The purchaser, who lives in B.C., wants to buy it because the book describes a battle that her father went through. It was the capture of Wagenborgen in the Netherlands by the Canadian Scottish in April 1945. She writes that her father never talked of the war (as is so common), but she is trying to gather material to pass on to her children, in remembrance of their grandfather. So my book will go into her collection. She has requested that I sign several books for them. That is some kind of reward for the effort I have made, knowing it will help a family remember something about this veteran/father/grandfather.

Although Valour on Juno Beach was more popular, I have always prefered Valour in the Victory Campaign because it seems to have much more content - there were so many dramatic battles in the last months of the war but they are overlooked as the war was drawing to a close.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Revising "Courage Rewarded" for Afghanistan

I have decided to revise Courage Rewarded, extending it to 2009 and providing a snapshot overview of the Canadian war in Afghanistan. This started because I still found some small errors in the present text. So, while correcting these, the Afghan experience has now captured my interest and I want to provide a more encompassing picture of courage in that context to readers.

On doing basic research, I have been impressed by the intensity of battle that our soldiers have been through, of which I am sure the average citizen remains unaware. Perhaps I can help bring out some of this reality, which needs to be better understood. I have already done quite a bit of important editing on the text of the present book (with the help of an excellent professional editor) but the research on Afghanistan is taking longer than hoped. I hope I may contact one or more serving soldiers to interview them to get a better glimpse into their experiences with the main theme of the book (courage & fear) if I can, but who, where and when remain to be decided. I remains to be seen where this goes.

Book placement in Calgary, Halifax & Fort Henry

I have been told that my book is a "niche" book and so may not appeal to the general reading public. I suppose that is why all the publishers turned it down and I had to resort to self-publishing. However, I consider it a good book, within its "niche" and I think the review in Esprit de Corps Magazine, and the responses to book signings last fall in Ottawa and Pembroke (next to CFB Petawawa) have validated that. So I have been searching for the markets for my "niche." I was therefore quite pleased this week when the book outlets at the Calgary Military Museums, the Halifax Citadel, and Fort Henry in Kingston have all responded readily and agreed to carry the book for this summer season. Good luck and good crowds to them all! I am very encouraged by this progress.