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IB1 student wins Royal Canadian Legion essay contest

Remembrance Day is just one of many opportunities to revive the memory of unsung or forgotten heroes. Thanks to an award-winning essay by IB1 student Graham Burton, many more people will know the moving story of the U.S navy’s first African-American sonar technician.

Burton won the regional division award for the Royal Canadian Legion’s national Remembrance Day essay contest. Its Toronto Branch 75 youth education co-ordinator John Holoway presented Burton with a certificate and prize money during a presentation in principal Jim Power’s office, Friday, Jan. 10.

“I’m more interested in science than English,” says Burton. “But good writing is important in all fields.”

Take a moment to read an edited excerpt of Burton’s essay and to remember an important veteran:

“Remembering the Home Front”

Very little is done to commemorate the efforts of those who served their country on the home front.

Lanier Phillips, a member of the United States navy observed firsthand the importance of Canada’s civilian support. Phillips was one of the few African-Americans in the navy. Throughout his life, he had been discriminated against by others. Even when he joined the navy, he was relegated to being a mess attendant on the USS Truxtun.

On February 18, 1942, the Truxtun encountered extremely bad weather and crashed onto the rocky shores of southeast Newfoundland. Phillips survived on a lifeboat, covered in oil from the crash. When he reached the shore, citizens of the nearby town of St. Lawrence were assisting the survivors of the wreck.

Phillips was taken in and washed along with the other survivors. As he was being washed, he feared that the people of St. Lawrence would cease being kind to him once they discovered his ethnicity. To his surprise, he was shown the same respect as everyone else, something he had never experienced before in his life.

Phillips distinctively remembers Violet Pike, a woman who helped clean him up. Violet paid special attention to Phillips, giving him food and board during his recovery in Newfoundland. This experience changed Lanier Phillips forever. Awakened by this experience, he became the navy’s first African-American sonar technician. He would never forget the first time he experienced kindness from strangers, and later donated enough money back to St. Lawrence to build a children’s playground. For his efforts, Phillips was inducted into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador as an honourary member.