'They did it all for us': Students gather at cemetery to remember in No Stone Left Alone ceremony

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Under a billowing Canadian flag, busloads of kids disembarked into the past at the Beechmount Cemetery as part of the No Stone Left Alone project, stepping up to the neat rows of veterans’ headstones to lay their single poppies.

Part of a larger movement of 13,000 students from across Canada and beyond, the students stood solemnly in front of the grey stones, absorbing the brief information on each: Name. Rank. Date.

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Alberta Lt. Gov. Salma Lakhani told the students Canada’s fallen heroes made tremendous sacrifices so life would be better than it could have been otherwise.

“Think about how you and other young people like you enjoy many, many precious gifts, thanks to our women and men in uniform. These are gifts we should never, ever take for granted, and we should always be grateful,” she said.

“You young people are free to question, to explore ideas, to express yourself and to choose what you believe in. You are free to learn and to create the sort of future you imagine for yourself, regardless of your culture, gender, ethnicity or religion. You are free to live in peace.”

She urged those gathered to pay tribute by making sure schools and neighbourhoods are places of peace.

And for those grieving a fallen hero?

“May you find comfort in knowing that their proud legacies will continue to live on through wonderful programs like this one,” she said.

Sixth grader Reyona Prasanna from Annunciation School took it all in.

“They did it all for us,” she said. “They helped us all in the wars.”

The colour guard were all veterans of Canada’s Armed Forces. Some sported blue berets denoting service in UN peacekeeping missions all over the world, a tradition marking 75 years this year.

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Premier Danielle Smith said Canada’s a free and democratic country, thanks to the men and women who answered the call to “stand on guard.”

“It’s a privilege to gather and remember the veterans who are laid to rest in Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton,” she said.

While not all of them were young or at war when they died, they all were someone’s daughter or son, sister or brother, friend, parent or grandparent, she said.

“Every one of them had a life and a story,” Smith said, citing the courage, selflessness and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice represented by the stones.

“Placing the poppy on the headstone is a simple act with tremendous meaning,” she said.

Brigadier Gen. Steve Graham leads 12,000 troops in Western Canada and Northern Canada in the 3rd Canadian Division.

“How do we remember the over 120,000 Canadians who died trying to protect our country over the last 124 years?” he asked

“They sacrificed their own hopes, their own dreams, their futures, for us,” he said.

He encouraged the students and other participants to read the headstone, the name, the age, the date they died.

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“Think of the individual behind that headstone, think about the conflict they died in — South Africa, First World War, Second World War, Korea, Afghanistan … and as of this year, 75 years of UN peacekeeping missions,” he said.

“Think about thousands of currently serving Canadian soldiers deployed right now around the world. They’re continuing that tradition of putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure our way of life,” Graham said.

“If each of you do this, if each of you seizes the opportunity, we can collectively remember the fallen. Ddon’t let their sacrifices be forgotten. Let’s make be sure that the names and faces and stories are passed on and become part of our national history,” he said.

Graham told Postmedia he lost three soldiers who served under him in Afghanistan in 2007 — an experience that was “horrible,” he said, recalling having to call parents and wives to tell them about their fallen hero.

“When I’m standing there during those two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, I think of those three, and I think of my uncle, who was killed in Italy in the Second World War,” he said.

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Renee Chevalier-Lavin is a Grade 5 teacher at Annunciation Catholic School. Prayers in the classrooms there often include prayers for regions in conflict around the world, she said.

This will be her second Remembrance Day without her father, who was a veteran of 35 years in the military and on UN peacekeeping missions in Cyprus.

“Remembrance Day was so important to him. It’s always been important that I be a part of it,” she said.

“I just know how honoured he would be to have all these students participate in it,” she said.

For students who immigrated to Canada from wartorn regions, Remembrance Day strikes a chord, Chevalier-Lavin said.

“I think a lot of our kids understand that. Many came from wartorn countries … I think the significance of it will sink in for now,” she said.

“We do have kids from the Ukraine, so we know they’ve experienced it.”

Kateryna Pietrova, a 6th grader, came to Edmonton from wartorn Eastern Europe.

“It was very bad,” she recalled. “I’m very grateful for the veterans, and that I could come to Canada with my whole family. I want to be Canadian.”

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