My uncle celebrates his 80th birthday this weekend.

He is ending a distinguished career as a professor of labor economics at the University of Winnipeg. Before that, he was a radio operator in the Canadian Merchant Navy.

During World War II, he was assigned to supply ships that worked the North Sea route between England and Russia. Whatever one’s opinions with respect to Russia, White Russia, or Red Russia--and I am sure there are many--one must admit that the work of the merchant navy is the least known, and least respected of any in World War II.

Even more risky than working the North Atlantic route to supply England, the life expectancy for those in the waters of the North Sea was about 30 seconds, it is so cold; to be sunk there was a death sentence.

It is outrageous that the Canadian Government has only this year recognized the contribution of the merchant navy as equal to that of the armed forces in World War II.

By one of those curious bits of synchronicity (but aren’t all bits of synchronicity curious), when I phoned to wish my uncle "happy birthday", my cousins were comparing him and me. When pushed, my cousin said they were positively comparing our gentleness.

Gentleness is easy, compared to the quiet courage my uncle demonstrated every time he boarded those ships. So often we think of courage as the John Wayne kind, picking up guns and killing.

How often do we see this kind of quiet courage? How often do we celebrate it?

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