D-day LegacyI was working as a first mate and chef on a beautiful sailboat in Corsica. It is hard work and long hours. It was after midnight and I was still cleaning the galley when Hans one of the guests poked his head in and gave a slightly drunken hello.”Grab a bottle of wine off the rack. Take a break and come socialize on the deck”.
The conversation starts to slow down as the wine settles in. The night sky is amazing and we are sitting under a blanket of stars. “So you are Canadian?” I knew he knew this, so I am wondering what this means. I continue to stare at the sky. A moment later without any response from me he continues. ” I never met a Canadian before.” This is an older business guy who does transactions all over the world. How can he have never have met a Canadian? I ask him. He says “Well yes I have done deals with Canadians, had them in the room but never sat and talked with one.”
Strange I think to myself. I don’t really have a response. I sit quietly enjoying the wine waiting for the inevitable. Why is he telling me this? The pause in the conversation enables me to take in the smell of the ocean on a warm mediteranean night. This sure beats cleaning the galley.
“My dad was killed in the war by a Canadian.” he throws out. This attention grabber has me scanning his face for his demeanor on the topic. “Whoa”, I am dumbfounded. “you have never spoke with a Canadian because of this?”. “Ya” he says. A little uncomfortable. After a very long pause, my mind racing as to what must be going through his mind. Fifty five year old memories. I don’t think either of us was ready for that.
“Tell me about your father” is my response.
“I don’t remember him well. I was young, but I have a memory of his face. He was an experienced soldier, he had been in the war for several years. About 2 days after we found out he had been killed in Normandy a letter arrived addressed to me. It had been mailed before the battle. He said everyone knew the allies would be invading. They didn’t know where exactly. He told me everything will be fine. “We just hope that we don’t get the Canadians landing on our beach. They are fierce soldiers. They attack with little support and have to fight for their lives because they have nowhere to retreat to. That comment hadn’t meant much until a couple years later I found out that he had been stationed near the town of Courseulles where the Canadians landed. Known as Juno beach to the Allies.”
I think to myself. This short exerpt in a long letter has stuck with Hans 55 years, dramatically changing his life. There is no expression to describe my astonishment. I didn’t know what to say. It is quite intimidating to instantly become a one on one ambassador of Canada under the circumstance. “Wow” I say in a calm contemplative fashion.
“I never really felt comfortable with the thought of Canada after that. Times have changed, enemies have become allies. Old hatred thankfully lost. Yet I have always felt uneasy. And now I meet a Canadian while on holidays.” he says.
“Have you been to Normandy?” he continues.
“No” I say.
“You should go to Normandy, I go once a year. Last year I visited a Canadian cemetry from that battle. It was near where my father died”
“What was it like?” I ask.
He looks at me, he holds up his wine glass in salute like he has finalized a decision. ” I am not going to tell you. You must see Normandy for yourself. Many lives have been changed from what happened that summer. You should visit battlefields and cemetries of all the nations. It is history, yours and mine. You should go.”
“You are right Hans, I will go to Normandy” I answer. “There is something to learn there.”
“Good” he says “lets have some more wine, I want to know more about Canada. Do you play hockey?…”