June 28, 2003
Awe is war
By Bret Hart
Being from a family of 12 kids, I didn't get a lot of one-on-one time with my dad, except for the wrestling. I don't know how my parents did it.
I try to spend as much individual time with my four kids as possible.
I've been privileged to travel the world but all too often saw the sights through the window of a speeding vehicle racing me to some arena or airport.
I've wanted to go back and really take in so many landmarks, recently with a new determination.
Gaining back my mobility after my stroke has made me live the old adage: Don't put off for another day what you can do today.
So, a few days ago I flew off to see the battlefields of France with my youngest son.
I'm a history buff and it has rubbed off on Blade.
The first time I visited Germany was on a wrestling tour in the early '80s and I returned several times throughout the '90s as world champion.
No one was more surprised than me when my popularity in Germany grew to where I was voted athlete of the year three years in a row by Bravo magazine and was chased in the streets like a rock star by mobs of girls. Upon seeing it, Jimmy Hart remarked to me: "Someone should film this. I've never seen anything like it."
So, last night, it was a sharp but pleasant contrast for me to be sitting quietly in a small restaurant in Manheim, Germany, enjoying the local cuisine.
Much to my surprise, the restaurant owner recognized me, despite my ballcap and well-worn jeans.
He seemed at the same time shocked and amused when he exclaimed in broken English: "You are still a living legend here. No one would believe you are just wandering the streets!"
I was actually a bit embarrassed by his overly kind words.
I've seen a lot of changes in Europe in my lifetime.
In the car (which you drive on the same side of the road as in Canada), crossing the border into France, I was delighted to experience firsthand that all the walls are down in Europe.
The French and Germans were very laid back and now have the same currency and even speak the same broken English.
So the battlefield at Verdun made perhaps even more of an impact, to see more than 130,000 dead bodies -- French, German, American -- all piled up in a memorial called The Bone Room. I had to wonder how these people, who all live together in harmony now, could have slaughtered each other. When I expressed that sentiment, they said they wonder the same thing, too.
And then there is the immaculately kept American cemetery with its countless rows of tombstones and crosses. Young men with an average age under 20 -- from places such as Idaho, Nebraska and Montana -- all having died here in a war they fought bravely but barely understood.
Of course, there is respect for their sacrifices but the motivation behind the great wars isn't so well understood any more by those of my generation and younger who now populate Verdun and the surrounding area.
And maybe that is a good thing.
My son has experienced so much in just a few days that it's like he's eaten an encyclopedia.
What a great education -- for both of us!
I think he's seeing the world is much bigger than he ever could ever have imagined.
His eyes stay wide like saucers and, just from his amazement, I have learned so many things.
You don't have to go all the way to Europe to instill a sense of history in your kids. There's Fort Calgary, The Glenbow and Heritage Park.
Right now, there's a slow train to Paris waiting and, by Canada Day, I should be in Vimy.