Remembrance Day parade official fears ‘lack of respect’

East York vet, Ashley Zedner, leads Remembrance Day event, but fears occasional backlash. (DAVIESDSC_0001E)

The Remembrance Day parade marks one of the few occasions when Ashley Zedner will publicly display his military medals. Zedner, 62, has too often experienced verbal abuse, aggressive behaviour from strangers and a “total lack of respect,” he said.

Someone recently spat at a poppy seller from Branch No.10 of the Royal Canadian Legion. Such incidents have prompted Zedner to hide the medals marking his years of service.

“When I hear that people spit at other people and I get on a streetcar and somebody calls me a war monger, that’s why I will not wear my decorations,” he said. “You can ignore us, but don’t spit at us.”

On Nov. 11, Zedner, in his role as parade marshal, led hundreds of fellow veterans to the Remembrance Day service at the East York Civic Centre.

With each step, Zedner thought of his father, a Second World War veteran and the man who inspired him to join the military, he said. He remembered the many friends lost in combat. He questioned whether the sacrifices veterans made were in vain.

“I have stood there with veterans every Remembrance Day. I have looked down and up and over my shoulder and thought, ‘Why did I serve?’” he said. “I think back and think, were all those years worth it?”

Zedner enlisted in 1968, at age 18. He served as a sergeant of the 1st Battalion in the Royal Canadian Regiment for 11 years. Then he was a gunnery sergeant with the 92nd U.S. Airborne division. He served in the Vietnam War and with the Peace Corp in Cyprus.

After 10 years as the parade marshal in East York, Zedner felt it’s now time to pass the responsibility onto the next generation of military veterans.

“I need to … give it to somebody younger,” he said. “It will be very emotional. I’ll probably start bawling when it’s over. After 10 years, it’s tough.”

While Zedner has seen an increase in the number of people attending the parade since the wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said it shouldn’t take a war for veterans to be recognized and this recognition should not be limited to one day a year.

“Anytime you walk by a cenotaph, look at that and think about what somebody did,” he said. “It seems that you’re more respected at this time of the year, but the rest of the year, who are you?”