You won’t see their stories in textbooks, but the heroism of these men and women changed history. And the Royal Canadian Legion is making sure they are not forgotten.
On April 5, the Highland Creek Branch honoured over 300 World War II and Korean War veterans, many of whom recalled their wartime memories. Last year 400 attended. The number dwindles down every year as vets die.
Clifford B. Guest, 103, was the oldest vet in attendance, but didn’t look a day over 80. The former wing commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force served in the military from 1940 to 1944 and credits his wife for convincing him to join the war.
“I’m very proud of the work Canadians did,” Guest said.
But his greatest achievement is his 60-year marriage. He and his wife started with a combined income of $1,500 a year, but when Guest’s wife lost her job as a teacher, they never went into debt, he said.
“She was a wonderful woman. You get the wrong girl, she can make you bankrupt.”
To our troops in Afghanistan, Guest stressed the importance of finding the right partner to spend your life with.
Irizawa Takao, 79, a second-generation Japanese Canadian lived in Vancouver when the Korean War broke out. Discrimination made it impossible for Takao to have a white-collar job, so in 1950 he joined the military and worked in payroll, he said.
While in Korea and Japan, Takao saw things he still cannot get over.
“I found it very disconcerting. All the people were dislocated without homes, no source of income, little kids poorly dressed, and very little food. It was very sad to see that. The whole country was blown apart. I never want to see that again.”
War vets often don’t want to recall violent and traumatizing experiences.
“I don’t normally like talking about things like that because I put it out of mind and that’s where I like to keep it,” said Eric Pierson, a WWII navy mechanic.
But sometimes the story is written on their face.
A scar from a shrapnel marks Alyre Gallant’s right cheek. Gallant was a tank gunner in the invasion of Normandy.
“I’ve seen a guy’s head blown up, but you’re not sure what you’ve done most of the time. A shell would explode and maybe 10, 15 people got killed, but you couldn’t see because it was so far away,” Gallant said.
“I came out of it pretty good, except for a little bit of arthritis and a sore ankle. Then I got home and got married.”
When they came home there was no military or government support unless they were severely disabled. To be honoured and reconnect with their peers is something they won’t forget, the vets said. They also stressed the importance of supporting our troops in Afghanistan. The Wounded Warriors fund takes care of soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and around the world. Their next fundraising event will be a concert on April. 19 at Winston Churchill C.I. For ticket information call 416-759-0164.