I’m speaking to you today…

IN REMEMBRANCE OF a man known as Private Cornelius Peter Buhler – or – (Buller)… a member of the Calgary Highlanders Regiment who was killed in action July 25, 1944 during the Allied combat offensive in France.

Cornelius Buller was my uncle. As a member of his ethnic group, he fled Russia on one of the last exit visas ever issued Russian citizens in the days preceding the final clampdown of what came to be known as the Iron Curtain. He left in the company of one of his two sisters – my birth mother Katie; their other sister, my aunt Helen, had preceded them in her departure sometime earlier. He and my mother were in fact the last two people physically allowed through the border crossing to which they had traveled to exit Russia.

He arrived in Canada in 1926 at the age of 17, having traveled here under the auspices of the Canadian government’s immigration policy of the day, which encouraged European immigrants to settle our country’s vast prairie lands by paying the costs of their travel - on the condition that it be repaid after arrival. Among our ethnic German speaking peoples this debt was referred to as their “reise schuld” – or quite literally their “journey debt”. My uncle gladly repaid this debt - first through the sweat of his brow – and ultimately by laying down his life in service to his adopted country.

I was born 3 years and 2 days after he died, and first learned about him literally at my mother’s knee - as she shared the story of his sacrifice with a young boy who was only 8 years old at the time – and in the many retellings of the tale in the years that followed.

As young as I was I came to revere him for what he had done for our nation, and hold in high esteem the shining memories of him that my mother shared with me. She was in fact the only one in our family who ever spoke of him to me – and only in private. It was as though his name had been excised from our collective family memory by everyone else – and it was equally obvious to me that this hurt my mother deeply, for she had loved and admired him for the man and the brother that he was to her.

What makes my uncle’s sacrifice so unique and special in this context is that when he arrived in this country he was a Mennonite – a member of an ethnic religious group who were well known to be conscientious objectors opposed to going to war. This heritage and these convictions alone should have precluded him from ever entering combat arms when World War Two broke out – but they didn’t – and here’s why.

According to mothers’ description of him, my uncle had a mind of his own and the convictions of his heart to back him up. Along with his family members, he had lived through and survived the depredations of World War One and the brutal Russian Revolution that followed it – not to mention the harshness of communist rule that came in its wake. The communist Reds had viciously murdered his father, my own grandfather, during one of the seesaw occupations of their village by the Red or White armies that took place throughout the Revolution, and he was no stranger to the effects of war that had raged in his own back yard.

Given the harshness of these experiences in his life, he was deeply grateful to have been given the choice to come to a land of absolute peace, freedom, and opportunity such as Canada represented to him.

When World War Two broke out, Cornelius Peter Buller took a long and serious look at what was happening – and took an even deeper look inside his own conscience and convictions. In the final analysis – and based on those convictions as well as his absolute gratitude to our nation – he elected to set aside the safety of his conscientious objector status and go to war for our country. He was 31 years old at the time he joined up and spoke three languages – English, Russian and German – and would have been considered an asset in any army fighting in the European theater of war. He chose our own army within which to use those language skills.

Whether the army required he do it because of being a Mennonite by birth – or whether he chose to do so on his own is unclear. What is clear from the records is that he signed up under the last name of Buhler instead of Buller - and listed his religion as Presbyterian. Whatever the actual reasons for it were, what is also clear is that he was prepared to do whatever it took to become a fighting member of our armed forces in order to fulfill the heartfelt convictions he carried for our nation in a time of need.

My uncle went into battle in France on July 6th of 1944 – exactly one month after D-Day. Where exactly he fought is not clear from his service records – but what is abundantly clear from them is that he was killed in action on July 25th – only nineteen days after entering the battlefield. My mother never knew the actual reason for his early death in-theater until much later, when the fellow serviceman whose life he had saved made it known to her.

The Bible says these words in John chapter 15, verse 13 – “Greater love has no one than this; that one lay down his life for his friends”. The reason for my uncle’s death was exactly according to this scripture – he had thrown his own body over a German grenade in order to save the life of his friend. His friend survived with only shrapnel wounds to his legs because Private Cornelius Peter Buhler willingly laid down his life for his friend.

No greater good could have been accomplished with his life than this. The Good Book says so – and I believe it.

Along with the hundreds of thousands of others who have served and fought in the service of our nation, my uncle was a soldier. He lies buried with honors in the Canadian Military Cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize, France. In my heart and memories he has always been a hero because of his beliefs - and because of the selfless act of courage with which he gave his life. I stand before you in a military uniform of our nation that I’ve been proud to wear in memory to my uncle’s service and sacrifice. I’m honored to be here today to give a voice to the man and the soldier that he was on our behalf.

Author's Bio: 

For almost forty years of his life Ken Matthies has been a writer and chronicler of life expressed in poetic form, following the family tradition laid down by his grandfather before him.

Faced with the dramatically life altering experience of his helicopter pilot daughter’s sudden death in 2002 he has grown to also become a literary author of true events based on his own life. Though grief opened his literary doors it is the Light of Love and Memories supplying the fuel of inspiration to write through them.

As a second-chance dad given the opportunity to verbally share his life stories with his newly rediscovered daughter it was she who told him that she believed him to be a ‘worthy man’ after having heard them, and who encouraged him that they should be shared in written form beyond her own life – not yet knowing as she said it that she was soon to leave him behind. As a bereaved father and writer learning how to live life again in the Light of his own Love and Memories of his daughter, he writes those stories now as a testament to her belief and faith in their value.

His full length book entitled "How to Survive the Death of a Child - A Father's Story of Healing Light" was the first of these stories which he wrote in the Light of those Love and Memories.

He lives in the solitude and grandeur of a tiny southern Yukon village with his Tlingit native wife Skoehoeteen and the successor to their venerable old Tahltan bear dog Clancy Underfoot, who now happily awaits them at the Rainbow Bridge in Doggy Heaven. She’s a new female puppy named Hlinukts Seew which means ‘Sweet Rain’ in the Tlingit language, a wonderful phonetic variation in memory of Clancy’s name who was also called C.U. for short. It’s a good place to tell those stories from.

You can read more of Ken's writings and find his Amazon Kindle book at www.kenmatthies.com.