'A fabulous day'

Remembering still hard 70 years after, D Day vet recalls as sun shines on parade

MIKE YOUDS / Kamloops Daily News
November 11, 2013 01:00 AM

Kamloops RCMP Const. Kerry Blades joins other officers during Monday's Remembrance Day service at Riverside Park.

"They shall not grow old," began Rev. Sandra Sugden, reciting the Ode to Remembrance before a hushed crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 people in Riverside Park.

"We will remember them," Sugden continued, standing before the veterans' memorial cairn, flanked by rows of honour guard standing at attention.

Under an overcast sky - prayers, drumming and piping punctuated by fly-pasts of three Hawk aircraft from 419 Squadron, Cold Lake, Alta. - Kamloops remembered en masse on Monday.

Kathy Mitchell, mother of Master Cpl. Erin Doyle, serving again as Silver Cross mother, led the laying of wreaths at the cairn. Doyle, Third Battlion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, was killed in combat in Afghanistan five years ago.

Scores of wreaths were brought forward by local organizations and others perhaps not so local, including the Hungarian Air Force.

Retired Canadian Armed Forces Sgt. George Dersch attended with his grandchildren, who are Cubs and Beavers.

"If not for the veterans of the first and second world wars, we wouldn't be standing here this morning," Dersch said. It's always important to remember their courage and sacrifice, he added.

A Kamloops resident, Dersch has attended every Nov. 11 ceremony since he became a cadet in 1959. He went on to a 30-year military career that included two tours of duty in Europe and three on Cyprus. On one of those tours on the disputed island, Turkey invaded, which forced Dersch to call off his honeymoon plans.

"If this was Lethbridge, it would be 20 degrees colder," said retired Cpl. Daryl Innes, who attended his first ceremony in Kamloops with family after relocating here.

"I liked it. It was good," added Innes, who was particularly impressed by the official fly-past. "They just really echoed through the valley."

This year's turnout for the ceremony seemed larger than in recent years.

"It was the weather," said Capt. Wayne Corbin of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, who grinned through comments about Alberta weather in November. "I've been stuck here before in the snow."

As though following orders, the sun peeked through as the ceremony drew to a close. When the parade got underway, people on the sidelines gave a round of applause as veterans of war service marched past.

Percy Howard, 94, sipped hot cocoa in the veterans' tent and shared war recollections still painful to recall some 70 years later. He was at the wheel, a transport driver, on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to win back Europe from Nazi control.

Simply making it off the beach alive under a steady barrage of heavy weapons fire was something of a miracle. Howard's transport hit a mine, delaying but not thwarting their advance.

"Memories are really hard," Howard said. "You try to forget them and can't. You're a young guy. It's a very rude awakening. You grow up quickly or you don't grow up at all."

He thinks, not only about fellow soldiers, but about civilians caught in the path of all-out war.

"I always felt sorry for the civilians, the kids. You see kids lying there, a mother holding her baby."

He feels the ceremony could be improved with the addition of a simple and brief public gesture.

"Nobody - no politician standing there - gets up on that podium and just says thanks. Just a plain, ordinary thank you, guys."

Hon. Col. Ron Guidinger of the Canadian Air Force Tactical Fighter Training 419 Squadron, visited from Airdrie, Alta. He was here partly in relation to his honorary duties - he flew into Kamloops in a Hawk trainer aircraft on Sunday - but always remembering the friends and comrades he buried over the years as a fighter pilot.

"It's a fabulous day to stand with all the citizens of Kamloops and commemorate and pay respect for all those in uniform," he said.

© Kamloops Daily News

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