Lest We Forget

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On June 6th, 1944, my Grandfather on my Father’s side swept mines from the English channel to clear a path for Operation Overlord. They were strafed by what they think was a Luftwaffe fighter, but no damage or casualties resulted. They did lose one sailor, but Grandpa said he did not know for sure why. One moment he was there, and another gone. They suspect he might have gotten caught in rigging that went into the water, or he got knocked into the water by a boom or some other heavy thing. The fellow’s body was never found. My Grandfather’s name was Frederick.

My Grandmother and Grandfather on my Mother’s side were both serving in England at that point. Grandma was a Lieutenant Nurse (pronounced left-tennant), a surgical nurse who helped patch severely wounded soldiers up. Grandpa was a pacifist and a Seventh-Day Adventist, but chose to serve, and did anything he could to support our troops. He simply did not carry a gun. He ran ammo, carried wounded, drove ambulance, worked in a warehouse and ran a printing press for the Canadian Forces newspaper. Both would later serve in Belgium and the Netherlands. Their names were Margaret and William.

I had an uncle-in-law who served in the infantry and fought to liberate Belgium from the Third Reich. At the 50th anniversary of the liberation of a small town, his entire company was invited by the inhabitants to come visit for some small informal celebrations. When he arrived, he was cheered by the entire town. Thousands showed up and acted as if he had just run the Wehrmacht out of town himself. They had constructed a huge memorial to the Canadian soldiers who liberated them. He was asked to lay a wreath for his fallen comrades, but broke down crying when he realized he was the only veteran who made the trip because he was the only one left. Belgium hospitality helped him out though – they fed him beaucoup de Belgian beer in the local inn. He showed me pictures of the event. He tried his best to keep up, but they just keep pouring it in him, using some of the most confounding glassware I have ever laid eyes on. I don’t remember his name.

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The Book of Remembrance, Parliament, Ottawa.

Last year, I helped out a local WWII veteran where I volunteer. He was with Canadian artillery and landed around Anzio in Italy. When they landed, the Germans shelled the shit out of them. Their commander, a British Colonel, knew they would get chewed up staying where they were, so he did what was least expected: he ordered them forward inland many kilometers under cover of fog. They moved in, hunkered down, and returned the favour, all while the German shells flew high over their heads, hitting where they should have been, not where they were. He said the “clever Colonel” saved their lives that day. Unfortunately, they ate something undercooked and all got liver flukes, their skin turning yellow in the process. They had to convalesce for several weeks before they could return to service. He told me he knew of only one other WWII veteran in my city of over 1 million people. I don’t remember (and could not disclose anyway) his name.

June 6, 1944 was 75 years ago this week. Many are careless with the names of those who served and have since departed. Do not forget the names of those who served. Lest we forget.

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The Memorial Chamber, Parliament, Ottawa.

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