Veteran John Yeo can still remember the feelings of pride and sorrow when he visited Juno Beach about 20 years ago.
The 1st vice-president of the Charlottetown Legion visited the historic area with another Island man to see where more than 14,000 Canadians landed on D-Day for the pivotal Battle of Normandy.
“The first thing we said was, ‘my God’,” said Yeo while describing the hill that Canadian soldiers had to climb while being shot at with machine guns. “There was a lot of history in that one battle.
“It was a grand exercise and it really put all three countries on the map – the Americans, Canadians and the Brits.”
While the Battle of Normandy was pivotal to the Allied victory of the Second World War, it wasn’t without tremendous cost. About 359 Canadian troops died during the initial D-Day landing, including at least two P.E.I. soldiers. However, many other Islanders participated and were killed in action following the initial landings.
Yeo is one of several members of the Charlottetown Legion organizing a commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day to recognize the sacrifice.
The Sunday, June 9, ceremony will be the major event occurring on P.E.I. to recognize the landings.
Charlottetown Legion president Melvin Ford said the group is hoping members from all of P.E.I.’s legions, veterans and the public attend the event.
“D-Day was such a big day, and it’s definitely something, as Islanders, we need to recognize the importance and significance of,” said Ford, adding the legion was proud to host the event. “So many people have given their life so we could enjoy our freedom. And they’re still doing it.”
- On DDay, more than 14,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach.
- The Royal Canadian Navy Contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors.
- The Royal Canadian Air Force contributed 15 fighter and fighterbomber squadrons to the assault.
- DDay landings occurred on June 6, although the 1944 Battle of Normandy lasted well into August and had a pivotal impact on ending the war.
- There were 1,074 Canadian casualties on DDay, including 359 deaths. More than 5,000 Canadians died during the entire Battle of Normandy, while over 13,000 were wounded.
SOURCE: The Canadian Encyclopedia
Veteran Dave Howatt, Queens County zone legion commander and vice-president of the P.E.I. Command, has taken a lead on organizing the event.
He said the parade will start from the legion at about 1:45 p.m.
The parade will march down Grafton Street for a 2 p.m. ceremony at the Charlottetown cenotaph.
Padre Tom Hamilton will give a history of D-Day followed by a wreath-laying. After the ceremony, the parade will march down Church Street, turn right onto Richmond Street and then back to the legion.
Following that, there will be a reception at the legion which will see veterans treated to a meal and a display of photos. There will then be period music at 4 p.m.
Howatt said it is important to honour the anniversary of D-Day, which unlike the Battle of Britain and Battle of Atlantic is not officially recognized most years.
“We should be doing something to commemorate the courage of the soldiers that started the end of World War Two,” said Howatt, who noted that while many Islanders have been recognized as serving at D-Day there are also some who the legion are still searching for.
“A lot of Islanders joined regiments out West at the time. If they were killed during the invasion and were with the Calgary Highlanders, they wouldn’t show up (as being from P.E.I.).”
Howatt asked for anyone who knows of Islanders that were part of the invasion force to send that information to firstname.lastname@example.org.