Decorated veteran, DC grad returns for Remembrance Day

Richard O'Connor in uniform.

A 22-year Canadian veteran and Durham College (DC) graduate is among the speakers at a Remembrance Day ceremony Friday on the DC, UOIT campus.

Richard O’Connor, 57, a 2018 graduate of the computer technologist program, was deployed to Namibia in 1989 and Yugoslavia in 1992.

O’Connor and DC president Don Lovisa are the two speakers at the ceremony, which runs in campus Gyms 1-2, Nov. 9, 10:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Richard O'Connor's photo album featuring abandoned apartments in Namibia. Photo credit: Jackie Graves

O’Connor has received several awards, including the Canadian Forces’ Decoration for his service, the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, the Deputy Minister of National Defence Award, and the Commander of the Army Commendation for saving a service member from drowning.

“I don’t know how I did that, because I’m not a good swimmer,” says O’Connor with a chuckle. “It was about five clicks (five kilometres) to the hospital. She stopped breathing five times on me and I brought her back each time.”

Friday marks the second straight year O’Connor has presented at Durham’s ceremony.

“Everyone is good at something and I realized I was good at being a soldier,” says O’Connor. “I excelled fairly quickly in the army and really enjoyed the camaraderie.”

He says he hopes when students hear his speech, they realize the importance of education and don’t “waste” their opportunity.

When asked about the biggest misconception this generation has about war, he showed no hesitation in clearing the air.

“The biggest misconception is wearing a poppy means you are supporting war,” he says. “I never wanted to go to war, I just wanted to protect my country.”

O’Connor says he never wanted to kill anyone and never did, but adds soldiers will “do what they have to do.” However, he says if people want to go to war simply to kill, “something is wrong with you.”

He says his friends in the army felt the same.

“Soldiers don’t go overseas to kill anyone, that’s not what we’re about,” he says. “I never wanted to and my friends never wanted to.”

Students at DC, UOIT may notice small but significant differences in this Remembrance Day ceremony.

This year, the new management at DCSI has revised the ceremony and partnered with the Royal Canadian Legion.

Charles Wilson, the new manager of DCSI, says they had more time to work on the event and make changes.

One of the primary changes will be having fewer speeches. He says in previous years, students, faculty and Lovisa all had the chance to speak.

Wilson says this ensures the focus remains on remembering the soldiers.

“The reality is with Remembrance Day is actions are more meaningful than a million speeches,” says Wilson. “Instead of having each member of the campus community give greetings, the focal point will be the act of remembrance.”