Jason Pankratz, master of ceremony at the Tillsonburg Legion Remembrance Day dinner, invited Les Burden to the podium Thursday night to announce the Tillsonburg Military History Club’s annual Local Hero Award.
The winner was in the Legion hall – in fact the winner was unknowingly standing only a few feet away.
“Within Tillsonburg and its environments there are individuals and organizations who’s past achievements and ongoing contributions have enriched our lives,” said Burden, president of the Military History Club.
“The Tillsonburg Military History Club wishes to acknowledge their special participation in the community with what we call our Local Hero Award.”
Burden said the award’s criteria includes “recognition of military history, our traditions, and cultural heritage, their own enormous contributions, sacrifice and commitment to our community.”
Also, finding solutions to community challenges and the inspirational impact they have on other people.
“Their tireless and selfless efforts, with work projects, to make this town a better place.”
This year’s winner of the Local Hero Award was Dr. Jason Pankratz, member of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 153.
“Thank you so much for all the work that you do,” said Burden. “This man works so hard, all the members of the Legion know that. Thank you very, very much.”
“I’m not going to cry,” Pankratz smiled, thanking the Military History Club, voice cracking a bit. “Anybody who heard me do In Flanders Fields this morning knew I was close.
“It’s a joy, and it’s just wonderful for this honour. Thank you, I appreciate it.
Pankratz said he loves history, loves to be the steward of history, and loves to tell the stories.
“History, for me, has always been about the story telling, and I want to credit my former teacher and good friend Robin Barker-James, who was not just a mentor… but he was that consummate story teller. He allowed you to ask questions and really get good answers.
“History for me is about the learning, the researching, and then the retelling.”
History and education go hand-in-hand, he said, and are very gratifying.
“No one can take that away from you. No one can take away a story, an experience.”
Writing Six Graves in the Village (A True Story of WWII Canadian Service and Remembrance published in 2021) was the heart of that experience, he said.
“To research and retell a story that very few had been aware of, and to come out with a final product in a successful book format.”
A collaboration with local historian Frank Moore, Six Graves in the Village tells the story of a Canadian bomber shot down in July 1943 in Holland, but more than that it shares the connection between the families.
“It’s the heart, it’s the social history that always keeps coming back,” said Pankratz. “And I think that’s the success of the book. There’s always that resonance of the men’s experience at the end that comes back.”