Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Juno Beach / D-Day -- 68 Years Ago Today

The mighty, terrifying, infamous iron juggernaut, the Nazi military, drew a line at the French coastline where they hoped to throw back invaders they knew with certainty must come, and come very soon. 
Queen's Own Rifles -- Toronto Boys land at Bernieres-sur-Mer
 about 8am on June 6, 1944
This monolithic Teutonic force had marched across Europe from Berlin to the gates of Moscow, southward to the wadis of North Africa, from the oil fields of Rumania to the Norman beaches, from the blistering heat of the El Alamein to the frozen fjords of Norway.   
Theirs was one of the most successful and terrifying war making machines that humankind had ever known, one that took pride in cruelty and brutality and that, even in its degraded state, was still capable of meting out a desperate, vicious thrashing to all comers. 

Facing this terrifying, fortified entrenched enemy was an alliance of young men representing the "Allied Expeditionary Forces".  More exactly, facing the Nazis were a bunch of kids, many of them farm boys who had barely even seen a big city, who were tasked with dismantling, by hand, the intimidating Nazi Wehrmacht.  They were to start, on June 6, 1944, with one toe on French soil, gain a foothold, and then march onward into the heart of Germany, where they were expected to seriously kick Gerry’s ass and then come home and pick up where they’d left off. 

Returning home, job well done, they beat their swords into plowshares, fully expected by the whole world to transition easily back to civilian life, even after ferocious, down and dirty fighting, POW camps, privation, exhaustion and survival only through killing, and killing first.  This was all accomplished, precisely as ordered.  They recalled the cameraderie and stayed mostly silent about everything else.   

We’ve seen the movies.  We've read the books.  We know this. 

1st Cdn Scottish Padre
performs last rights on battlefield
Nevertheless, have we stopped for a second to ponder that the very first Canucks on Juno beach that June morning in 1944 (yes, there were Canadians there) were from Winnipeg, Nanaimo, Regina, London, Sarnia, Bathurst?  The movies overlook this.  Actors portray cocky Texans or street savvy boys from the Bronx.  But they don’t mention that the entire humble town of Nanaimo, British Columbia in 1944 had a population of about 8000, with most of the young men in town either signed up with the 1st Canadian Scottish Regiment or having attempted to do so, and that by sundown on D-Day 87 of them had been killed or wounded. 

The Winnipeggers, so gallant and brave, hit that beach with the full knowledge that they came from a town that held Pine Street, a stretch of road home to young men so tough that three VC winners lived on it within blocks of each other.  A hundred years later, we call it ‘Valour Road’ to honour the memory of these incredible men.  Such a high bar by First War fathers must have propelled their Second War sons to their achievements on that momentous day.
Mural at Valour Road - Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Most of the survivors of D-Day would be in their mid-eighties now, and we are running out of time to shake their hands and thank them.  We should seek them out and say thanks not only for their military valour and courage under fire, but also for how they came home, quietly went back to work, raised kids, doted on Grandkids, paid their taxes, built our roads and schools and hockey rinks, and generally became the backbone of a great country. 

We remember them on this day. 


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