Jan de Vries feet hit the farmland of Normandy on June 6, 1944. His training could not have prepared him for what he encountered on the ground that fateful day.
“No matter how well you train it won’t be that way at all. It will be chaos,” the veteran said. “Chaos will prevail. It always does in wartime.”
De Vries, 85, addressed students and faculty at this year’s 10th annual Remembrance Day Ceremony at Centennial College. Trained as a paratrooper with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the veteran recounted his experience as a new immigrant to Canada.
“I came here as a Dutch immigrant in 1930 at the age of six. My father said you’re a Canadian now, speak English,” he said.
Trained in the United Kingdom at the age of 18, de Vries recalled leaping from a balloon during practice jumps. He told the crowd that each month leading up to D-Day the paratroopers would take one jump for an extra 75 cents.
“It’s only the speed of your body that opens the chute. You get 200 feet from the ground and wonder when the damn thing is going to open,” he said.
The veteran also recalled the hardships of being away from home and fighting on the ground that day in Normandy.
“It’d be nice to get a little bullet wound and get of here for a while,” he said.
On June 6, 1944 De Vries joined over 15,000 Canadians for the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Along with British and American forces, the Canadian servicemen formed the most significant amphibious invasion in history.