Op-ed: A clash between faith and the loving memory of a father who served his country resolved

by Diane Sims

Painted poppies, embroidered poppies, art glass poppies, metal poppies and photographed poppies pepper my office.

No trendy poppies these. 

Mine are four decades of gifts from friends remembering the terrible physical and emotional pain my Dad, my Mom and our family suffered after World War II, through the 1950s, 1960s and past Dad’s death in 1978 at age 66.

Each November I pin poppies and if I can’t attend a Remembrance Day service my TV is tuned to the national service from Ottawa.

However, four years ago I felt an utter fake at Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ontario. I felt my spirit at stake because I kept butting into Article 22 of the Confession of Faith. 

Specifically, point number three of the accompanying commentary: “We affirm that non-participation in warfare involves conscientious objection to military service and a non-resistant response to violence.”

I called my pastor, Troy Watson, asking him over because I thought I should leave Avon.

Sipping coffee, he softly asked me to tell him my Dad’s story. And he listened.

Dad was on the front-line fighting Hitler’s soldiers. He was a Baptist who believed evil must be battled. “The Lord is a man of war. The Lord is his name,” records Exodus 15:3. 

Juxtaposition that with, “Do not repay anyone evil with evil,” as Paul wrote, Romans 12:17.

I was 19 when Dad died. By my 30s I’d interviewed plethora soldiers from Gallipoli, World War I, to the Spanish civil war, WWII, the Korean war, Vietnam, Bosnia to Somalia. I obtained Dad’s war medical records.

Gar Sims was a lieutenant with the Lincoln Welland Regiment. He volunteered September 1942, mere months after marrying his blonde, blue-eyed Swedish bride.

He set ashore in France in September 1944 and soldiered through the blood, bodies and that bitter winter to Belgium, Holland into Germany.

April 21, 10 pm, 1945, two weeks shy of the German surrender he was hit with shrapnel at the Kusten canal in eastern Germany. 

He had tried to shepherd his troops behind the limited shelter of accompanying tanks when hit.

Former Expositor editor Diane Sims recalls the story of her veteran father and the lasting legacy of pain that returned home with him.

Shrapnel tore through his forehead blowing out a five-inch piece of skull. Immediately transported to a field ambulance two kilometres behind the front he was evacuated to the Canadian army’s neurological hospital in Basingstoke, England. 

Doctors waited for the inflamed skin to sew. Weeks later he was allowed a short telegraph he was home-ward bound. He sent the reference “3rd John:13.” Mum underscored this in her Bible.

“I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face….”

Toronto surgeons inserted a titanium metal piece to replace the missing bone. Titanium won’t rust but it couldn’t erode the pain.

Doctors prescribed “222s” for many horrific injuries then turned blind-eyes at the heavy consumption of alcohol. 

We were a wounded family. Mum and my eldest brother bore the worst of his explosive anger. I’m the youngest but I couldn’t have friends visit or participate in after-school activities. I had to monitor the rye bottle until Mum got home from teaching. And I was angry at him.

Supper was rushed but then Dad slept. Mum would knit and I escaped with homework to my bedroom. 

What loneliness Mum suffered. 

Forgiveness came but like the old adage of peeling an onion many tears were shed. Oh, dear Lord, the pain both Mom and Dad fought.

Troy heard my story with coffee long cold. He had no easy answers because it’s a struggle for many. He took my hands, reassured me my love and respect for my Dad within the Lord and then prayed peace for my chipped heart. As the Psalmist wrote in Chapter 34, “seek peace and pursue it.”

Memories linger, now I believe the Divine wants us moment to minute.

A slight glance over my left should as I write, is a rich oak and red velvet shadow box my aunt made with my Dad’s gold and silver regimental pin, officer’s pin and five medals.

Beneath it I’ve framed his officer’s card with his photo, thumb print and a line for an identifying mark.  Those notes helped identify bodies.

It still chills to read, “scar along outside left wrist.”

I’ll wear poppies this November, weep when veterans “March Past,” and remember why Dad served.

But I pray fervently for people fleeing warfare where Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke walked.

I’ll also wear the Mennonite pin, “To Remember is to work for Peace” for peace in my soul.

Finally, I have a red poppy tattooed on my outside left forearm respecting and loving Dad.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Diane Sims is a former Expositor editor and remains a close friend of this newspaper. She now lives in Stratford, Ontario and occasionally drops us a line of prose of a timely nature.