The mere thought of Adolf Hitler gaining control over his beloved adopted country was enough to send Jan de Vries off to war.
A veteran of the Second World War, de Vries spoke to Centennial College students at the Centre for Creative Communications for their annual Remembrance Day service. Serving with the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, de Vries landed in Normandy shortly before D-Day.
A dedicated member of the Royal Canadian Legion for the past 35 years, the highly decorated de Vries received the French Legion of Honour award in 2004.
“I was a Dutch immigrant who came [to Canada] when I was six years old,” de Vries explained. “I think that the most important thing that Canada can do is be prepared to protect itself.
“That’s why I joined up because we were hearing the stories about Hitler. I thought if we don’t stop this guy and he comes here than it will be one heck of a country.”
When speaking to younger generations, de Vries hopes the one message they take away from his war experience is the importance of preserving national pride.
“If the country is strong nobody will attack,” de Vries reiterated. “With the First and Second World War we had lots of time to prepare because we were so far away from the action. In the next war they will be right on top of us and it will be over in two weeks. I can’t say enough about being prepared.”
Love for one’s country can go a long way towards mustering courage to go into battle with little experience. It became the driving force behind de Vries’ actions, something he illustrates when talking to cadets or visiting military bases throughout the country.
“I meet these young fellows and they are the same as we were,” de Vries revealed.
Despite the generation gap, he still feels a connection to the nation’s youth.