Fall Colors Canadian Style – among the living legends

It is the summer of 1943. You are in Burma. As a POW (Prisoner of War). You are being held captive by the Japanese Empire. You are working on a railway. You work in unthinkable conditions working harder than you will ever work in your life – for no salary and hardly enough food to get through the day. Your brothers in this task are Australians, Brits, Dutch, Americans, fellow Canadians, and ethnic Asians enslaved by the empire for the express purpose of building a railway. You are 19. Your name is Peter.

In 1942, Japanese forces invaded Burma from Thailand and took it from Britain rule. To maintain their forces in Burma, the Japanese had to bring supplies and troops to Burma by sea, through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. This route was vulnerable to attack by Allied submarines, and a different means of transport was needed. The obvious alternative was a railway. In June 1942, the empire of Japan set out to do the impossible. They needed labor and they got it from almost 300,000 slaves and POW’s. You survive because you are young and strong. Your American buddies who survive call you Pete. The Australians call you sir.

The estimated total number of civilian laborers and POWs who died during construction is about 160,000. About 25% of the POW workers died because of overwork, malnutrition, and diseases like cholera, malaria, and dysentery. You celebrate your 20th birthday with a bowl of rice in one hand and a pick axe in the other.

In the year 2008, I look at a flat-screen monitor struggling to boot Windows XP. I wonder if the OS is corrupt of whether or not the hard-drive is on its last legs. I unplug USB devices and switch off unneeded ports in BIOS to free up resources in memory. There seems to be little that I can do to unfurl this mess.

Over my shoulder, a very encouraging Peter B. gives me the odd clue as to the demise of his cherished PC. He enjoys his e-mail, his web browser and the photos of his grand-children and great-grand children. Peter and his wife are in remarkable health and embrace this modern technology. And yet I cannot wrap my mind around the visual… a teenage boy slashing his way through a tropical jungle, warding off disease and tolerating hunger while older men fall around him.

There is something about helping a veteran from another era that is sobering and humbling – when men and women fought for the very survival of freedom and democracy and paid the ultimate price.

Words escape me. They really do. On November 11, 2008 (Remembrance Day in Canada) – think about Peter, the survivors. And those that did not survive.

It is the summer of 1943. You are in Burma. As a POW (Prisoner of War). You are being held captive by the Japanese Empire. You are working on a railway. You work in unthinkable conditions working harder than you will ever work in your life – for no salary and hardly enough food to…