The Military Museums

Oscar Johnson

During a Remembrance Day service several years ago, a photographer caught this image of Oscar.

Oscar Johnson

During a Remembrance Day service several years ago, a photographer caught this image of Oscar.

Oscar Johnson

In a story he wrote to accompany the photo afterwards, he said, "...he looked me right in the eye, and in his sea water green eyes I could see it all, the guns, the explosions, the trenches, the bodies, the screams of dying men, lost friends and family, searing landscapes and broken lives...

Yet these eyes weren't sad, they were almost smiling, as if to say everything was all right. It's okay to remember."

Oscar Johnson

Oscar 'John' Johnson was born in Killam, Alberta on October 3, 1926. He enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces in October 1944, and served until March 1970. Early in his military career he was a member of the PPCLI in Edmonton, where his two daughters, Cheryl and Gail were born.

Oscar also spent time in the Service Battalion as a driving instructor, and was posted to bases in Vancouver, Petawawa and Calgary. He finished his military career as a Master Warrant Officer with the Recruiting Unit in Calgary.

After Oscar's retirement from the military he and his wife Freda settled in Chilliwack, B.C. He had an active and happy semi-retirement in the Mobile Home Industry. During this time he was also very active in the Royal Canadian Legion. He served for many years including a term as president and had received his 30-year membership pin.

Oscar and Freda developed a real passion for traveling and enjoyed many trips to destinations including Fiji, Brazil, and numerous trips to Hawaii, Portugal, several Alaskan cruises and a number of Caribbean cruises.

Their travels continued in a different form after the arrival of their two grandchildren, Kevin in 1975 and Kelly in 1979. Both John and Freda enjoyed their countless camping trips in their motor home even more than all of their world travels.

The family was devastated in August 2005 by the passing of Freda, Mother, Grammy, and friend to all who knew her. Oscar finally lost his long and valiant battle with Alzheimer's Disease and passed away in January 2007. John and Freda did, however, have many happy years together and they have given us all a lifetime of the very best of memories.

Kelly Laird playing "The Last Post", in honour of her grandfather, Oscar Johnson.

Music and Memory

Montreal Neuroscientists have studied how the brain processes music. One of the great mysteries about music is that it doesn’t exist outside the human brain. The brain itself creates the musical sounds we think we hear through vibrations.

Throughout recorded history music has been a part of every culture, playing an essential role in human evolution. Singing together releases hormones that engender feelings of trust and bonding. As significant today as in tribal times, this facilitates social connection.

Musical movements actually create emotional connections in our brains and emotions are the bedrock of our existence. Music and emotions influence each other. When listening to music, the emotional response causes us to move in rhythm and that movement in turn reinforces emotional response, intensifying the experience. This is a delicate interplay that starts right after birth.

We can use music as a tool to induce a particular state of being by selecting music that is appropriate for that mood state. Music as a medium cements our most important memories in a way that makes them easy to retrieve.

Because music is primarily an emotional medium, our reactions to it bond emotional memories to the music - especially when we are in our youth at a time when our life experiences have such an impact.

At a later date, when that same music is played, it serves as a retrieval cue for that particular memory and for the emotions that come along with it, for instance the feelings of brotherhood and inspiration that fill many soldiers at the sound of the bagpipes playing their regimental march.

Scientists have been working with Alzheimer's patients to chart the enduring power of music. Seniors with virtually no functioning memory at all can still remember the music of their youth, as seen, for example, in a women with advanced stage Alzheimer's who served as a nurse with wounded soldiers during the Second World War. When exposed to the popular music of that era, she lights up, flooded with memories of the "good old days".

Many Alzheimer’s patients tested with music and memory analysis achieve scores as high as those recorded by healthy elderly seniors performing the same tests. There seems to be a hub in the brain where memories, emotions and music are all entwined and preserved, even with the most advanced memory loss and lack of recognition of their natural environment.

Music is a very powerful force for social cohesion. Music creates emotional bonds in large groups of people and our communal response to music unites us in social rituals. Some of the most remarkable examples of this are seen during wartime. The power of musical entrainment can synchronize human aggression, as in the Second World War Nazi Party rallies, or fill us with the courage we need to stop it. Armies have understood this phenomenon for centuries and have long used war cries and song to trigger soldiers to engage in combat.

Just as music can inspire masses to charge or celebrate, so too does it reinforce our human bonds of sorrow. This painting of Oscar Johnson represents a moment in time when Oscar, suffering from advanced stage Alzheimer’s Disease, was wheeled out in full kit by his family to commemorate his comrades during the Remembrance Day service.

Although, largely unaware of his surroundings, when the Bugler sounded the Last Post, tears spontaneously rolled down Oscar’s face as powerful memories resounded.

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