OAK BAY -- There was usually so much to see, so much to hear on the day we gathered together to remember.

“I used to look forward to the service,” John Hillman says, wearing a blazer covered with pins, badges and a row of medals. “I enjoyed it.”

He appreciated the playing of the bugle and the raising of the flag.

“I was able to do my salute for the flag going up and down,” Hillman says, raising his hand. 

But this year – the year the 101-year-old earned national attention for walking 101 laps around the courtyard at Oak Bay’s Carlton House, surpassing his goal and raising more than $140,000 for Save the Children Canada – this year, there will be no crowds to honour Hillman’s service.

“I could tell you stories, but I’m not going to,” he says of the years he spent serving in France, Italy, Africa and Burma. “I don’t want to remember them.”

Although the Second World War veteran won’t recall those past events, he says it’s imperative we never forget those responsible for our present freedom. 

Although this year’s ceremony will be sparse, Hillman says people will be abundant in the silence.

“I remember the faces of the people who passed by,” Hillman says. “To pay homage to the people who I knew who didn’t come back.” The people who allowed him to return home and raise a family with his wife Irene. 

Although we think it’s remarkable they will celebrate their 80th anniversary next month, and impressive that he’s planning to do 102 fundraising laps next year, Hillman will spend Remembrance Day being grateful for the people who made the ultimate sacrifice so he could simply lead a normal life. 

“It’s important because, had everything gone opposite to what we know, we would be living an entirely different life,” he says. “A life we wouldn’t want to live.”

So, lest we forget, we remember and honour the service and sacrifice of people like John Hillman. Lest they don’t know — because the pandemic is keeping us apart — we can ensure they feel it through our grateful hearts beating together.