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Lest We Forget




November 11 is a holiday in many nations around the world, including the United States and Canada. It is not a holiday celebrated by the exchange of gifts or a cookout and meal as so many others are, but is one in which we are asked to reflect upon the sacrifices of others. Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada trace their roots back to the armistice of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 when hostilities on the Western Front of World War I ended. On this date each year, we are asked -- fittingly -- to honor those still among us who served our countries in military service and to remember those who did so who have passed on or made the ultimate sacrifice.


When discussing issues such as that, hockey seems to pale in importance, but if you will allow me, I would like to recall the service of two men who are considered early giants of our sport that served in the Great War -- one from each side of the border -- and who did pay the ultimate price. It is my hope that the honoring of their memories will made us think harder about the importance of this day and to be more appreciative of those still with us who are willing to give all for love of country, countryman, and freedom.


That "One-Eyed" Frank McGee was ever in the military is surprising because, as his nickname suggests, he was ineligible for service because of his bad eye. There are a couple of stories told as to how he passed the vision part of the physical, but whatever actaully happened, it is generally believed that the doctor examining him simply let it slide since on his chart "good" was written in the blank for his right eye, but the space for his left eye was left empty. I think it is understandable how that happened. Frank McGee was already a national hero as a key member of a Stanley Cup champion, and I think few would have wanted to stand in his way of serving his country in the capacity of military service.


In any case, he was assigned as a Lieutenant to the 43rd Regiment in the 21st Battalion in 1915. In December of that year, he suffered a knee injury in Belgium and was sent to England to recuperate. Once his injury was healed, he was offered a desk job, but refused the position, preferring to rejoin his brothers in arms in the 21st. That was a fateful decision, though one I seriously doubt McGee would express regrets over. On September 16, 1916, Frank McGee became one of the over 1.3 million casualties of the Battle of the Somme. His body was never recovered.


Moving south of the border, we come to a man who is today best known for the fact that his name graces the trophy annually given to the best player in NCAA hockey. While that honor seems highly appropriate, it seems sad that he is not remembered more for his military service. The man of whom I speak is, of course, Hobey Baker.


Baker never played in the NHL, though it was not because he lacked an opportunity to do so. The Montreal Canadiens expressed interest in his joining their squad, but as a member of an aristocratic Philadelphia family. Baker believed that to do so was beneath his station. As his chances to play hockey dwindled, he took up flying, and approached his new hobby with the same level of intensity that he played hockey. In other words, he put his all into it.


For Baker, the United States' entering World War I was an exciting opportunity. As a man who struggled with the need to feel a greater purpose, service of his country gave him precisely what he craved. In 1917, he was among the first to answer Uncle Sam's call when he decided to put his flying experience to use in the war effort. Unfortunately for Baker, who craved action, due to his experience as a flight trainer, he was originally stationed in Paris and given the task of teaching other pilots. Baker believed that he would most likely serve his entire term in Paris and would never reach the front. In April of 1918, however, Baker finally got his wish for action when he was assigned to the 103rd Aero Sqaudron. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre after his first confirmed kill and was later placed in command of the 141st Aero Squadron.


Baker survived the war, but was never to return home. Instead of immediately returning to the United States he remianed in Paris. In December, he was finally ordered back to the United States, but hours before returning home decided to test a plane that had recently been repaired. While in the air, the plane stalled, and Baker did not have enough altitude to stabilize it. The plane crashed a few hundred feet from the aerodrome, and Baker died just minutes after his men pulled him from the wreckage.


On this day that we set aside to remember true heroes, think about not only Frank McGee and Hobey Baker, but all those who have served our nations with such great honor. If you see a veteran of the armed forces, take a moment to thank them. These people are worthy of honor. It is because of what they have done for 240 years in the United States and 150 years in Canada that we have a free land to call home. Lest we forget.


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