On Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, we took a moment to remember those who put their lives on the line to fight in wars defending the freedom of humanity.
Our veterans and those who currently serve have not only fought, but they often served as community leaders. They have braved new frontiers in warfare and took on the fight against COVID-19 in troubled nursing homes when called upon.
No one knows this fight better than George Della Valle, an Italian-Canadian who served in the military from 1988 to 2013, a 25-year span that included the Gulf War.
Now retired, Della Valle serves as the zone commander for Nova Scotia, Nunavut Command Zone 2. This encompasses Dominion, Glace Bay, Donkin and Port Marion legions among others.
“This is a leadership and mentoring position, helping to resolve problems for legion members,” he said.
He joined the military in 1988 as a combat engineer just out of trade school in Sydney.
“There was not much going on and I was hanging around.”
His military career took him all around the world from the Gulf War in 1991 to three tours of duty in the former Yugoslavia, among others.
“My favourite posting however was at Petawawa, Ont.”
He served from coast to coast before being posted to Sydney, from where he retired.
“You worked hard and you partied hard,” Della Valle said. “Those who serve have a lot of comrades who are still friends on Facebook today.”
He also lost a few a friends and on Nov. 11, he pays respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The two minutes of silence is a time for me to remember those who have fallen in combat that I have come to know over the years. And the poppy is a visual reminder of the ultimate sacrifices that the comrades made.
“The military is a good career,” Della Valle said. “There is a lot of discipline, there is no doubt and you should be in it for the long haul, though you can get out anytime. Today you have to serve 25 years to receive a full pension.”
Della Valle is a member of Dominion Royal Canadian Legion. He runs a program called Operation VetBuild which is a peer support group for veterans who come back from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder. They get together every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m., where they talk, as well as consume cookies and coffee.
It is a confidential and stress-free environment enabling the veterans to talk about their problems. Each veteran is given a model car, train or plane to put together over the sessions.
“Building the models is a great way to keep your hands busy and it takes their mind off their problems.”
He now lives next door to his family farm, where some of his family members still live. Della Valle bought the land while in the military as a place to retire.
These days, besides farming, he raises racehorses and races from May to November at Northside Downs in North Sydney and throughout the Maritimes. His daughter Hanna raises saddle horses for Western riders.
“My horses all have (the name) Della in them ... Della’s Hotshot, Della’s Playboy, Della’s Wildcat and Della Wears Prada, to name a few.”
He started racing horses after he retired, though he was always helping friends with horses at the racetrack.
Della Valle has two brothers and a sister. His mom died last year. He now lives in Sydney.
Therese MacAdam is a Glace Bay writer with a deep interest in the community and its people.