Birch Cliff Community Says “Thank You”
By Hedy Korbee, Birch Cliff News
A small gesture of kindness and thanks for 95-year old World War II veteran Robert Adams snowballed on Sunday into a neighbourhood military parade and a reminder for us all on what it means to be a community.
Adams was the guest of honour at his own personal Warriors’ Day parade, riding through the streets of Birch Cliff in a military jeep, accompanied by bagpipers, drummers, a colour party, military vehicles and a spontaneous crowd of supporters.
Families lined the streets with their children to cheer Adams and thank him for his 23 years of service in the Canadian Air Force.
“It feels wonderful. I didn’t expect to have a day like this,” said Adams. “You’re not just honouring me. You’re honouring all the veterans. And the worst of it is there are so few of us left. Most of us have passed away. I wound up with an old body that wanted to live long.”
The memorable morning came about because Adams has a thoughtful personal support worker named Janet Stokes who usually takes him to the Warriors’ Day Parade at the Canadian National Exhibition.
When the parade was cancelled this year because of COVID-19, Stokes took to Facebook to find a bagpiper who might be willing to play outside of Robert’s home on Kalmar Ave.
Before long, support poured in from all over the community and the solitary bagpipe serenade transformed into a charming community parade that included members of Scarboro Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion and Todmorden Branch 10 in East York.
Daniel Burri, president of Branch 13 on Kingston Rd. said it was heartfelt and brought the community together.
“Every year when we go to Warriors’ Day. That’s the biggest day of the year to remember the vets. We always walk in the parade. Because we didn’t have a parade today, I think it’s a great idea to have a small one.”
A dozen reservists from 32 Combat Engineer Regiment based at Denison Armories near Sheppard and Dufferin also showed up with military vehicles and to pay their respects.
“I think it’s really summed up best when we look at the words of the poem (Flanders Field),” said Corporal Jordan Kowalski. It’s us receiving the torch from the last generation. So, when we put the word out that that we’re going to do all this for Robert specifically, the outpouring of support was just phenomenal.
Adams was underage when he enlisted in the military in 1942 just shy of his 18th birthday. His dream was to be a pilot but he didn’t qualify because he stopped his education after grade 10.
Adams started his military career in the air gunners program and after he placed first overall in the course, he was promoted to pilot.
He trained as a pilot flying Harvards and Tiger Moths near Trenton and Camp Borden and was waiting to be transferred overseas when the war ended.
Adams said this was a huge disappointment because his heart was on a mission to avenge the death of his brother, Frank Wesley Adams, 20, who was killed by the Germans in Ravenna, Italy in November 1944.
“I never got overseas at all,” Adams said. It broke my heart because I wanted to get over in the worst way to kill Germans. They killed my brother.”
Adams stayed with the Air Force for another 23 years, working in the field of quality control. He moved to Birch Cliff in 1960.
Today Birch Cliff turned out in force to thank Adams for his service and the sacrifice of his brother.
Five-year old Leilo Olimpo Hayes carried a homemade sign in the parade with his parents and said he wanted “to thank all these brave men for putting their lives on the line to protect us.”
“We feel it’s important to honour those who have served and are serving our country,” added his mother, Erin Hayes.
For Robert Adams and the woman who organized it all, Janet Stokes, it was amazing.
“It’s far beyond my expectations,” Stokes said. “Fabulous. I loved it. I feel overwhelmed.”
As for Adams, he’s grateful to the Birch Cliff community for commemorating all of those who served and for allowing him to experience the music, pomp and pageantry one more time.
“It’s important because it’s a part of our history,” Adams said. There’s a lot of people that gave their lives to give this country the safety it’s got. It’s very important. Never forget them.”
~ Hedy Korbee is a journalist who lives in Birch Cliff. You can follow Hedy at www.birchcliffnews.com/