Seventeen Second World War veterans in Montreal were awarded the French Legion of Honour on Thursday, including one who will turn 100 next year. An emotional ceremony featuring the 17 was held in the presence of Philippe Zeller, the French ambassador to Canada, and deputy veterans affairs minister Walt Natynczyk.
Zeller described the award as an expression of France's wish to honour men who helped liberate the country during the war. The oldest of the honorees was 99-year-old John Stuart Hermon, whose accomplishments include running the Boston Marathon at the age of 78.
For Hermon, the ceremony was a very touching experience. "It makes one think how precious families and relatives are," the former captain in the 7th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, said in an interview.
"We should all be very grateful for the efforts that have been made by all of the veterans who are not here and that their families will eventually appreciate just what sacrifices their relatives have made in the battle of Europe."
Hermon recalled that his job was to drop bombs on the enemy and avoid getting killed. "In the moment of battle, your mind is concentrated on doing a job, the same as it is in civilian life," he said. "There's no free pass and there's no turning back."
The 17 live at the Ste. Anne's Hospital for veterans in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the western tip of the Island of Montreal. They are among some 600 Canadian veterans receiving the award this year. The Legion of Honour was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
"The whole of France is grateful toward these brave veterans who, 70 years ago, fought on the beaches of Normandy, Provence or in the skies of France," Zeller said. "These men are the last of the young heroes who put their lives on hold to fight a ruthless war against barbarism and Nazism."
- Second World War veteran Allan Bolduc, 91, wipes away a tear after receiving the French Legion of Honour medal at a ceremony at Ste. Anne's Veterans Hospital Thursday, November 20, 2014 in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec. Seventeen veterans received the medal in recognition of their efforts in the liberation of France during the Second World War. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)