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'Their stories are important': Man documents the final resting places of N.B. veterans
FREDERICTON -- Each year, fewer Second World War veterans are able to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies across the Maritimes.
Veterans Affairs estimates almost 1,000 veterans have died in the region over the last year, and one New Brunswick man feels it’s more important than ever to document their stories.
Bob DuPerron spent 25 years in the military and has spent the last decade visiting over 300 cemeteries in central and western New Brunswick.
The Oromocto Legion member is trying to document the final resting places of the province’s veterans.
“Some cemeteries I find one. Some cemeteries I found 250 of them,” he said in an interview with CTV Atlantic. “Just this year, I was in McAdam and there was way over 200 veterans buried there.”
So far, he’s documented the sites of almost 7,000 veterans. He says he has over 100 more cemeteries to visit before he collects the records and creates an online portal so that others can see the list.
“History is due to repeat itself and we would like to try and avoid that, so their stories are important,” said DuPerron.
Nine years ago, the man affectionately known as Canada’s last link to the Great War, passed away. John Babcock was 109 years old.
He was the last known surviving veteran of the First World War.
Next year marks 75 years since the end of the Second World War. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, about 800 Maritime veterans of the Second World War have died over the last year.
Second World War Veterans as of March 31, 2019:
- Nova Scotia: 1,500
- New Brunswick: 1,000
- Prince Edward Island: 200
A spokesperson for the federal department says these are estimates based on “the 1971 Statistics Canada Census and the 1988 Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey and are updated annually using survival rates from Statistics Canada life tables.”
Veterans’ Affairs doesn’t track who the oldest Second World War veteran is in the country, saying it doesn’t track veterans “to that level of detail.”
“I don’t know any who are still around, personally,” DuPerron said.
He believes those numbers are high. So does the president of the Fredericton Legion. But they do say it is possible some veterans do not self-identify. They either don’t talk about it or don’t make their whereabouts known.
Meanwhile, some are working to ensure veterans’ stories from the Great Wars stay alive.
“The history is so far removed…and the farther away you get from events that happen in the past, the less it might resonate with them,” said Pam Thomas, a teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto.
For the last five years, Harold Peterson students have gathered at an Oromocto cemetery and laid poppies on the gravesites of about 250 veterans.
“If you can continue to keep it at the forefront and keep it alive, then I’m hoping the danger of forgetting is less likely,” said Thomas.