Remembering Michael, Remembering All…

We spent 2 weeks in Sydney exchanging 2 hours of cleaning per day for accommodations. The house we cleaned was quite large, 7 bedrooms (occupied by AirBnB guests), 2 communal bathrooms and a separate granny flat.

On our second evening there, we met a guest named Michael. He was middle aged, muscular and quite boisterous. I was immediately intrigued by him as I saw what he was preparing for supper. It consisted of half a loaf of bread, two avocados, two huge portions of fried deli meats, some pasta and a bottle of wine. Erin and I made a quick and easy chicken salad and sat down at the table with him.

We exchanged the usuals, where we are from, what we do. Michael’s work is centered around mergers and acquisitions, he was excited to hear that Erin has worked in the actuarial field and thought the mindsets are quite similar. He also mentioned he was in the military and served for quite a few years.

I was intrigued yet again by Michael…”Who are you?!”

I pried a little and asked if he has a family history of being in the military, he scoffed and said he wishes. He wondered why I asked him and I explained my grandpa on my dads side was a major in the Indian army and many of my dads siblings pursued military but never served.

I wish I knew more about my Grandpas time in the military but the language barrier has made it very tough and my dad said it was a time that his father never speaks about. I just know he has a few medals.

I went on to explain to Michael that I was an Air Cadet for a few years but grew out of it as my interests changed as I got older. I also mentioned I have a great admiration for anyone who has served or is currently serving.

Michael was a paratrooper for the Australian Army and was sent to Rwanda with the second United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR II). This was in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide. I have heard about this devastating time in history but never looked any deeper into it, until after I met Michael.

As the night grew on we talked about our hobbies and interests. Michael is an adrenaline junkie, loves to skydive, bungee jump and ride fast motorcycles. He was in the process of buying his 9th motorcycle as we spoke. I told him I enjoy paintball and have participated in the WWII scenario paintball game, at Prairie Storm Paintball in Moose Jaw, a number of times and always play as the Allies. The feeling of running out of the “landing crafts” to “storm the beaches” gives you a different perspective on how things really happened when troops were actually storming the beach’s in Normandy.

Michael’s eyes lit up as I talked about paintball then grew dim. He mentioned he loved playing paintball then drifted, “l miss serving in the military…I was deployed in Rwanda, it was a crazy time, and I miss it. I got shot and they sent me home.” I decided not to pry and instead leave it up to him to share what he wanted. He then started laughing and reminiscing on the times he spent in conflict and started into a story about a time him and his squad were under heavy fire.

“We were surrounded and wondering if this may be it, our last fight. Bullets wizzing by our heads nowhere to go, just stuck to our foxholes. My mate yelled over to me; “What do yah think? Shall we wave the white flag?” I yelled back and said, the only white I have is me jocks…but I think they are brown now… what about you? He looks down and says; “Na mate, mine are brown too!” We both burst out laughing. We pulled back into our foxholes and shortly after, we received backup.”

Michael explained those jokes and camaraderie got him through and was most likely what kept him alive.

He drifted from the conversation back to thoughts of his service. Quietly chuckling…The bottle of wine was finished and there were a few moments of silence.

He clanked his empty wine glass down and excuses himself from the table saying goodnight and that he has to go finish bidding on the motorcycle.

I thanked him for the excellent chat, sharing stories with me and mentioned it was a pleasure meeting him, not knowing that was actually the first and last time I would see him. He left a day later, heading home to northern Australia to see his wife and kids, before he was off to his next job.

While I don’t condone war, it is something that has happened for many years before me and will continue for many years to come. I only know what I have seen in media and movies about war. I feel so thankful for those who are serving and have served. I also reflect on how they must feel if they make it back and their mates don’t, how some have trouble reinserting back into society after seeing and doing things they never thought they would.

For those who did not make it back, I hope they know they they are remembered and never forgotten.

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