By Mike Baker

There was finally something to celebrate this past weekend, as the Haliburton Legion, Haliburton Highlanders Riding Club and dozens of onlookers paid their respects to a man who laid his life on the line time and time again as a teenager during the Second World War.

For those who aren’t aware, this past Sunday marked the 77th anniversary of D-Day, when roughly 14,000 Canadians stormed Juno Beach in an attempt to wrestle back control of then Nazi Germany-occupied France.

Harold ‘Rowdy’ Rowden, a resident of Gardens of Haliburton retirement home, was one of the brave men who made it ashore, doing his part as the Allied forces made important inroads into mainland Europe.

It’s almost incomprehensible when thinking about this today – what Rowden did, what he sacrificed, what millions of people sacrificed to ensure their families, their children, their children’s children could live a life of freedom.

Seeing the smile imprinted upon Rowden’s face as motorcycles whizzed by the local Legion, throwing their hands up in a salute as a sign of respect, was a truly special moment. That he was brought to tears by the sheer number of people in attendance – masked and socially distanced for those wondering – and reiterated time and again that he felt this was all completely unnecessary, and even daring to indicate that he didn’t deserve such a spectacle was humbling. It was a testament to Rowden and his generation – once upon a time they gave everything, yet expected nothing in return.

As I wrote this column, I initially stated the event, just for a moment, made me forget about COVID-19, pandemics, lockdowns and restrictions. It made me even more anxious, if that were even possible, to get back to normal. To make gatherings like this more of a frequent happening.

Then, early Monday afternoon, the news came in. Ontario was reopening. Now, I know we’ve been here before. False dawns have practically defined the past 12 months in our province. But something just feels… different. I think that boils down to the fact the vast majority of us are now well on the way to being fully vaccinated.

Whatever the case may be, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one yesterday who breathed a humongous sigh of relief. It feels like we’re finally there. That light at the end of the tunnel people have been waffling on about now for well over a year has finally arrived.

As things slowly start to open up over the next few weeks and months, take a moment to realize why we’re here. And no, I’m not talking about Doug Ford’s so-called careful COVID management.

I’m talking about the Harold Rowdens of the world. They paved the way for the life we have today.

Thank you for your many sacrifices.