Soldiers’ stories are a gift

Artist discusses meaning behind latest artwork for Empty Chair ceremony on Nov. 12

This painting was created as a tribute to the brave men aboard the Wellington Bomber BJ958.

Many artists relate to their work on an emotional level.

For Joe Amato, an Edmonton artist who spent time on the Island, it’s also a way to give thanks.

Amato learned about the Legion and Rotary’s empty chair ceremony and wanted to be able to do something to honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s the most touching thing I’ve ever heard of,” said Amato of the empty chair.

Last year, Amato donated a couple of Remembrance prints to a couple of people who were brought to Ladysmith from Ireland for the ceremony.

“It was the woman’s father who had been honoured.”

This year, Amato has inked a new painting for Frank Burrill, whose Wellington bomber was not to be seen again after a mission over Dusseldorf, Germany.

“I felt that because it was so moving and so important that each year I plan on creating an art image for that cause.”

Amato also wanted to thank David Walbank, the Rotarian and Legion member who has been giving his time to research local war heroes for the ceremony.

Following is Amato’s artists perspective on his work and how difficult it can be creating a piece like this.

In the Autumn of 2010 I met a man I shall never forget. The first thing your notice is his voice, gentle but strong. After that it’s honesty and sincerity. He really meant what he said, it was refreshing.

My parents taught me to believe that I should always give more than I take and David Walbank exemplifies that belief.

David lives in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island and is a proud member of the Rotary Club and the Royal Canadian Legion. He is also a veteran of WWII. Each year, as a part of the Remembrance Day Ceremony, David selects one of Ladysmith’s fallen soldiers from past military service, researches their life and writes a story about them. The story is presented to the people of Ladysmith at an event known as the Empty Chair Ceremony & Veterans’ Dinner. An empty chair is placed in front of the speaker in the local community hall and the fallen soldier is hownoured with a brief history of their life. It is as if the reader is speaking to the veteran who is no longer here except in our minds and our hearts.

Few events in my life have touched me as much as this. It is heart wrenching and profound and you feel so proud to be a part of it.

For David, I can only imagine the emotion he feels researching the life and death of a fellow veteran. While speaking with him about the fallen man, you can hear it in his voice, he is so sincere.

Last year, the Rotary Club and the Legion brought a lovely lady and her husband from Ireland to celebrate the sacrifice of her Canadian father who lost his life in Europe during WWII. She had never met her father.

The good people of Ladysmith let her know how much he meant to Canadians and brought her closer to her father, what a beautiful gift.

This year, the Empty Chair Ceremony honours a young man who lived in Ladysmith, joined the Airforce, served in Europe and while returning from a mission his plane went down; never to be heard from again. Once again David, the Rotary Club and the Legion will give this story to the people of Ladysmith and all Canadians.

It is an act of giving and kindness that is rarely seen today.

Thank you David, the Rotary Club and the Royal Canadian Legion for giving much more that you take. We will always remember.