It is not often that the very act of standing in a particular place can give one the sense of unease, peace and pride all at the same time.
This summer, I had the good fortune to be able to journey to France with my wife and three daughters. With the girls in or approaching university, we were thinking this could be our last ‘family vacation’ for a long time.
It was during this vacation that we visited the beaches of Normandy – Dieppe, the site of the ill-fated 1942 raid that was spearheaded by Canadians and the D-Day beaches of Juno, Gold and Omaha. It was remarkable to be driving along the coast with the English Channel on one side and quaint villages on the other and see Canadian flags proudly flying. It was only then that we realized we were in Dieppe the day before the 71st Anniversary of the attack and, even now, the contributions of Canada are honoured and remembered.
There are so many thoughts and observations from those few days:
- Seeing the Dieppe cemetery, small and away from town yet immaculate. The headstones were full of names of young men who were only 18. We talked about how, instead of going to school, the young men of that time went off to war.
- Visiting the Juno Beach Centre. It is only in recent years that a group of veterans spearheaded the construction of a permanent reminder of the second-bloodiest beach of the D-Day landings. Canadians fought their way off the beaches and eventually into Holland and Belgium. Seeing the fortifications that awaited them, I cannot imagine having summoned the courage to jump off a landing craft that day.
- The scale and magnitude of war. From seeing the remnants of the floating harbour constructed by the Allies to the sheer size of the US Memorial Cemetary at Omaha, I shuddered at the complexity, cost of human life and enormity of the task of landing that June 6th.
Today, only historical remnants remain of those battles. Those two days, visiting those sites afforded my family the opportunity to connect with our pride in Canada, instill a sense of gratitude in another generation and give pause for thought to the horrors of war.
My father-in-law fought in Korea. Each year, we attend the Remembrance Day services and give thanks to the courage and dedication of the men and women who have contributed to our freedom. This year, having visited some of the places where Canadians distinguished themselves, I will be especially thankful.
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
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