Seven­teen Canadian Vets Dec­o­rated with French Le­gion of Honor

RCN News - - Content -

The painful mem­o­ries of the Sec­ond World War are hid­den un­der the Royal Canadian Navy beret that Al­lan Bolduc proudly wore Novem­ber 20, as he and 16 other vet­er­ans were awarded the French Le­gion of Hon­our.

At first, Bolduc jokes about want­ing to join the French For­eign Le­gion at the age of 15, but his smile quickly dis­ap­pears when he starts talk­ing about en­list­ing and head­ing off to war. "I tried to get into the army, but the army said, ‘You're too young; come back in a few years'," he re­called in an in­ter­view at a cer­e­mony at­tended by France's am­bas­sador to Canada.

But Bolduc and a friend were determined to sign up, and some­how he man­aged to join the navy be­fore turn­ing 18. "We hitch­hiked to Que­bec City to get in right away… and we were shipped over­seas very fast," said Bolduc, who served as a minesweeper in the Nor­mandy land­ing.

A sin­gle tear then rolls down his cheek, and the 91year-old vet­eran can no longer talk about his wartime mem­o­ries be­cause "there were so many of them."

The old­est of the hon­orees to have the Le­gion medal pinned on their chest by Am­bas­sador Philippe Zeller was 99year-old John Stu­art Her­mon, who de­scribed the cer­e­mony as very touch­ing. "It makes one think how pre­cious fam­i­lies and rel­a­tives are," the for­mer cap­tain in the 7th Field Reg­i­ment, Royal Canadian Ar­tillery, said in an in­ter­view. "We should all be very grate­ful for the ef­forts that have been made by all of the vet­er­ans who are not here, and that their fam­i­lies will even­tu­ally ap­pre­ci­ate just what sac­ri­fices their rel­a­tives have made in the battle of Europe."

Her­mon re­called that his job was to drop bombs on the en­emy and avoid get­ting killed. "In the mo­ment of battle, your mind is con­cen­trated on do­ing a job, the same as it is in civil­ian life," said Her­mon, whose later ac­com­plish­ments in­cluded run­ning the Bos­ton Marathon at the age of 78. "There's no free pass and there's no turn­ing back."

Cle­ment Gos­selin, an in­fantry sig­nal­man in 1944, was wounded twice in com­bat: once suf­fer­ing a frac­tured jaw, and then hav­ing his col­lar­bone bro­ken by an ex­plod­ing shell. He joked about re­ceiv­ing the medal, say­ing it made him heav­ier, but added it was an hon­our even af­ter 70 years. Gos­selin, 92, re­mem­bers the day he was first in­jured when Bri­tish, Amer­i­can and Canadian troops en­cir­cled a group of Ger­mans. "We didn't know which army in­jured us, be­cause it was all mud­dled up," he re­called. "They call it friendly fire, and I was sub­jected to that three times."

The am­bas­sador, who was ac­com­pa­nied by Deputy Vet­eran Af­fairs Min­is­ter Walt Natynczyk, de­scribed the award as an ex­pres­sion of France's wish to hon­our men who helped lib­er­ate his coun­try dur­ing the war.

"The whole of France is grate­ful to­ward th­ese brave vet­er­ans who, 70 years ago, fought on the beaches of Nor­mandy, Provence or in the skies of France," Zeller said. "Th­ese men are the last of the young he­roes who put their lives on hold to fight a ruth­less war against bar­barism and Nazism."

The 17 live at the Ste. Anne's Hos­pi­tal for vet­er­ans in Sainte-Anne-de-Belle­vue on the west­ern tip of the Is­land of Mon­treal. They are among some 600 Canadian vet­er­ans re­ceiv­ing the award this year.

Zeller said it was clearly an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for them. "Some (vet­er­ans) were ex­tremely moved when I gave them the medal of the Le­gion of Hon­our," he said in an in­ter­view. "I no­ticed that with those who could not ex­press them­selves in words, it was sim­ply by cry­ing that their emo­tions reap­peared."

The am­bas­sador re­called re­liv­ing the mem­o­ries of the war through his own mother, who died just six weeks ago. Zeller said she and other French fam­i­lies made sure gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion knew about their Canadian lib­er­a­tors. "She was prob­a­bly 16 or 17 when our vil­lage was re­ally freed by some Canadian sol­diers," he said in an in­ter­view. "So, right un­til the end of her life, she would get ex­cited, just ex­plain­ing what hap­pened to our chil­dren, to our grand­chil­dren and to all the fam­ily."

The Le­gion of Hon­our was cre­ated by Napoleon Bon­a­parte in 1802.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.