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For local veteran, memories of the war come firsthand

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to pin poppies to our lapels and remember those who served our country.

Elmira resident and active member of Elmira’s Royal Canadian Legion, Don McAllister is one of the veterans who’ll be set up this weekend at the St. Jacobs Walmart – and at locations across the country – accepting donations and handing out poppies for Remembrance Day.

McAllister served in the air force as part of the medical team. He was there for five and a half years during the Second World War and he went back in 1949. He retired in 1972.

He jokes that he chose the air force because he didn’t want to be in the army.

When asked how long he’s been helping with the Legion, he was with a laugh, “That would be telling my age, wouldn’t it? Oh I’ve been involved for many, many years with the Legion.”

He was born and raised in Saskatchewan. His wife, Bessie, is from Belleville. They met during the war. They retired in Alberta and then moved to Elmira in 2000 where their daughter, Sharon lives.

His decision to re-enlist in 1949 came because he wasn’t satisfied with civilian life.

“It was difficult getting work after the war and I had a small family at home. I needed an income to survive. It was a survival thing I think, my re-enlistment,” he said.

He’s been heavily involved with the Legion since leaving his military career. He spent many years as the Elmira Legion’s service officer, providing assistance to fellow veterans.

“When I came here I took over as service officer and just gave it up last year,” he said.

He says in his experience, they’ve always had a tremendous response to the poppy campaign. He’s also enjoyed the work they do in the schools, going in and speaking to the students around Remembrance Day.

But the poppy campaign is also important for him in the way it supports veterans in need. Donations are placed in a public trust fund, which are later used to help needy veterans. The poppy campaign runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 11.

“It’s for veterans now and the world war veterans and other veterans. It’s just assistance for some. They don’t all need it, but there are some that are destitute. I can’t believe the veterans we have on the streets of Toronto,” he said.

He adds, “It’s a never ending thing. As long as we have wars we’re going to have veterans and we’re going to have people in trouble.”

McAllister makes sure to note they’re not selling the poppies. They’re collecting donations and people can donate whatever amount they want to the cause.

For him, Remembrance Day isn’t about remembering past wars, per se.

“I don’t like anyone to have to remember anything about the war particularly. It’s not a pleasant thing. You sort of think you’d like to forget. Remember the veterans, those who served and have died and are still serving,” he said.

At 94 years old, he can pinpoint one thing that perhaps has led to his long life.

“I can blame my wife for that. She’s taken pretty good care of me over the years,” he said.

The Elmira Legion put $31,192 back into the community last week from donations to last year’s poppy campaign.

Woolwich Township received $10,900. Community Care Concepts and St. Mary’s Hospital and Grand River Hospital all received $4,000. Another $2,000 went to the Royal Canadian Legion Bursary and $2,000 to the Royal Canadian Legion Charitable Foundation.

Parkwood Hospital London received $1,500, Support Youth Education received $1,492, Commonwealth Ex Servicemen League and Operation Leave the Streets Behind each received $500, and $300 was given to the Waterloo Region Army Cadets.

This year’s wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the Elmira cenotaph on Nov. 6 from 3-4 p.m.

The Elmira branch of the Royal Canadian Legion handed out their four largest donations from last year’s poppy fund last week to Grand River Hospital, St. Mary’s General Hospital, Woolwich Township and Community Care Concepts. They gave back $31,192 to the community in total. From left, Elmira Legion president Joe Vervoot, Grand River Hospital Foundation president and CEO Tracey Bailey, St. Mary’s General Hospital Foundation interim president Susan Dusick, Woolwich mayor Sandy Shantz, Community Care Concepts executive director Cathy Harrington and Elmira Legion poppy campaign chair Bill Strauss.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
The Elmira branch of the Royal Canadian Legion handed out their four largest donations from last year’s poppy fund last week to Grand River Hospital, St. Mary’s General Hospital, Woolwich Township and Community Care Concepts. They gave back $31,192 to the community in total. From left, Elmira Legion president Joe Vervoot, Grand River Hospital Foundation president and CEO Tracey Bailey, St. Mary’s General Hospital Foundation interim president Susan Dusick, Woolwich mayor Sandy Shantz, Community Care Concepts executive director Cathy Harrington and Elmira Legion poppy campaign chair Bill Strauss. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

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