For my dad, on D-Day
|My dad, George Hartford|
340 Canadian soldiers died on D-Day. Nearly 2,000 Canadians died in the invasion of Normandy. They lie buried not far away in Beny-sur-Mer cemetary. A few years ago, together with my husband and three kids, I visited those quiet graves. It was humbling to walk among the tombstones, reading the epitaphs. We did not say a word. Because what is there to say in the presence of such loss and sacrifice? Would we have been so bold, so selfless, so daring? The unspeakable gratitude for what they provided for future generations hung heavily upon us.
When the crew of S for Smitty returned to Canada, they were not treated as heroes, nor did they think of themselves as such. My dad was loathe to wear his medals and rarely did he talk about the war. He knew his actions led to peace. He also knew that war causes civilian deaths and he made his peace with that. I know the war shaped those young men in ways I can never understand.
My dad, known as Ginge to his crew, went on to become an engineer, teacher, school principal, healthcare administrator, mayor, volunteer, dad and granddad. His navigator Doug Johnston became comptroller of McGill University and father to three beautiful girls. McGill offers a scholarship in his name. Bomb aimer Burns or "Fuzz" Foster was a pharmacist with two kids. Dad and his crew maintained contact throughout their lives and I still get emails from Burns and his son Doug. When my dad found his career as an engineer unfulfilling, he wrote to Doug, "Navigator, chart me a course." Doug suggested education and that is where dad spent the bulk of his working life.
Dad, Doug and Burns were Canada's finest. They along with 1.1 million Canadians risked their lives and then came home and helped build the Canada we love today, with its human rights, free healthcare, first rate education system and opportunities for all.
I look at today's youth and I wonder who among them would have the courage of those young men. Who would be willing to risk their own lives to preserve the way of life they take for granted? But then I look at my dad's eight grandchildren and I know we will be in good hands. He helped build their country to be a place that is worth fighting for.
Per Ardua Ad Astra: Through Adversity to the Stars
Motto of the Royal Airforce
|Burns Foster, Doug Johnston, George Hartford|
Paul Piotrowsky, Sig Teit
|The ground crew|
The air crew of S for Smitty