66 years ago

Sunday, June 6, 2010 ·

I usually stick to sports on this blog but today I feel compelled to share one soldier's story to help drive home the sacrifice that thousands of Canadians made on the beaches of Normandy 66 years ago today.

Both of my grandfathers were there. I had the privilege of going back with my maternal grandfather in 2006, where I was honoured to help him lay a wreath as part of the official ceremonies.



As we walked around the beach I tried to remember what worried me when I was 19. It probably had something to do with having enough money for pub night at Lakehead, and and that baseball's work stoppage was costing my Expos a shot at a World Series.

After landing on and surviving Juno Beach with The North Shore(New Brunswick) regiment, 19 year old Noel Stephen Horan wasn't so lucky in the coming days. While volunteering to support The Royal Winnipeg Rifles he was captured by the SS Hitler Youth Division in the nearby village Putot de Besin. As we also visited that site four years ago, he recounted that the SS had he and his fellow prisoners lined up, on their knees, to be executed. A superior officer arrived at the last second to make them prisoners rather than casualties.

Private Horan would spend the coming weeks walking(with the occasional cattle car ride) across France to his new home in Germany. While making the journey he told me they would often duck for cover as allied planes would attack not knowing some of their own were with the enemy. He remembers his captors stopping the march only to execute the prisoner standing right in front of him. The Nazis apparently had figured out that prisoner was Russian, and according to my grandfather, these Nazi's didn't take Russians prisoner.

While being held in Germany, Private Horan would turn 20 on Christmas day. Four months later the war was over and Americans arrived to liberate he and his fellow prisoners. Standing about 5'11, he weighed 95 pounds. I'm happy to say he rarely missed a meal after that before leaving us in the fall of 2008.

Four years ago we not only visited Juno Beach, but every major Canadian battlefield from both the first and second world wars. If you ever have the time and means to take such a trip, you'll be hard pressed to do anything else in your life that will make you feel more proud to be Canadian. You'll also have a greater appreciation for why we can never pay homage to what happened 66 years ago enough.

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About this blog

Welcome to my Healthy Scratches blog. You can hear Jason York and myself weekdays from 3-6 on Team 1200. I use this blog to expand upon some of the things we talk about on the show, and anything else that really pops into my ample head.
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