By KERRY DIOTTE
Twenty five years ago, I had the most memorable journalism assignment of my career and one of the best experiences of my life.
I accompanied hundreds of Canadian and American D-Day veterans on a trip aboard the QE2 cruise ship from New York City to Southampton, England to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. The wide-ranging trip included visits to the beaches of Normandy, France.
My assignment was to write a daily newspaper column about the journey and it wasn’t difficult. All I had to do is listen to the stories of these brave veterans – and there were legions of those stories, so powerful they’d make your spine tingle.
These were people who were mere kids when they made the original voyage to the beaches of Normandy – in rudimentary, uncomfortable marine vessels – determined to do their part to defeat the Nazi menace.
They were returning – deservedly so – aboard a luxury vessel on a memorial trip that featured entertainers and celebrities who were popular during World War Two; people such as Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney and the Andrews Sisters entertained and mingled with the vets.
Like today’s 75th anniversary, there was much pomp and ceremony for the 50th anniversary that featured Queen Elizabeth II, the prime ministers of Canada and Britain, as well as the president of the United States.
But it wasn’t the pomp and ceremony that resonated with me. The experiences I remember most fondly included the unadulterated admiration the French citizens had for these heroes. Women and children who weren’t even born during the war hugged and kissed the aging war vets at special ceremonies where entire towns closed down for the day.
I’ll also never forget the tears in the eyes of the veterans when they stood in Canadian graveyards that were the last resting places for their brothers and comrades in arms. I remember, in particular, one tearful veteran who brought a jar of soil from a Saskatchewan farm to sprinkle on the grave of a brother who never made it home again to their Prairie homestead.
But overall, my strongest takeaway from spending the better part of a week with these liberators was seeing their strength of character, their patriotism and their awe-inspiring sense of duty. I was always haunted by the nagging question: Would I have volunteered to serve my country the way these vets did? Would the youth of today volunteer en masse that way?
On this trip I was especially struck by a fellow who later lived in my Edmonton riding, veteran Paul Lefaivre. I got to know him well. As a member of the Royal Canadian Navy, he’d come ashore on the beaches of Normandy aboard a landing craft and lived to tell his story that included seeing an incredible array of marine vessels and planes and experiencing the acrid smell of gunpowder.
I could never fathom how it was that so many young people signed up to military service to go abroad and risk death. When I asked Paul why he did it, he was typically humble like so many others who joined up for service in those days.
He told me: “It was just the thing to do. Your buddies were going and you didn’t want to be left out.”
Paul was a rock–solid guy and I kept in touch with him since our meeting 25 years ago. I’d sometimes swing by his assisted living home in Edmonton Griesbach and once made a special point to give him a Parliamentary scroll – to congratulate him for receiving a very special honour.
He’d been awarded France’s National Order of the Legion of Honour, that country’s highest decoration, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Sadly, I got a call from Paul’s son about nine months ago. It was bad news. Paul had passed away at the age of 94, I was told.
During this commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I fondly remember Paul and all the other veterans who sacrificed so much for us – so we could enjoy our freedom.
We should never forget what they did for us.
Language Requirements: English, other languages considered an asset
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
• Excellent written and oral communication skills, outgoing personality
• Willingness to work flexible hours, including evenings and weekends to attend events with the Member of Parliament
• Effective interpersonal skills, good judgment, discretion, initiative, professionalism and team spirit
• Basic skills with computers, photography and video
The office of Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach, is looking for a summer intern to help develop and carry out creative projects and to also assist in the day-to-day tasks of a political office. This paid internship is a unique opportunity to learn about politics and develop your skills.
Interested candidates may apply before June 4, 2019 by sending their resume and creative work sample to Sally Harris at Kerry.Diotte@parl.gc.ca Creative work could include writing samples, photos or videos etc.
Please feel free to forward this opportunity to interested individuals.
***All applications will be held in confidence and only selected applicants will be contacted for an interview.***
May 18, 2019
Ottawa, ON – Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach, released the following statement regarding the 75th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars:
“Seventy-five years ago today, the Crimean Tatar families lived through the most horrific chapter in their nation’s history. Over 200,000 innocent Crimean Tatar men, women and children were forcibly deported from their ancestral homes in Crimea to Central Asia and Siberia. Joseph Stalin was the architect, and the secret police (NKVD) was the executor, of this horrific act of genocide, which deprived the Crimean Tatars of their homeland for decades.
“For weeks the Crimean Tatars were locked in cattle cars on their way to their place of exile. Thousands perished during the trip due to severe malnutrition, disease and lack of medical assistance. But this was not enough for Stalin. His brutal Soviet regime banned survivors from speaking their language, practicing their religion and passing their culture to their children. Despite all the atrocities committed against them, the Crimean Tatars persevered in exile and managed to return to Crimea, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“Today once again, the Crimean Tatars face grave challenges. The Putin regime’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 again presents a real threat to the survival of the Crimean Tatars and others on the peninsula. People are denied their human rights and are targeted for their culture, religion and language by the local illegal authorities.
“Canada’s Conservatives have always supported the Crimean Tatar people, as part of our principled support of Ukraine. In 2016, I was proud to introduce Bill C-306, which would have once and for all officially recognized the Crimean Tatar deportation as genocide. Sadly, this Liberal government opposed recognizing the facts of this brutal chapter of history and overwhelmingly voted against the bill.
“We will always stand united with Crimean Tatars against Russia’s persecution and illegal occupation. We will never forget the victims of the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars, and will work to ensure proper recognition of this inhumane atrocity.”
OTTAWA, ON – Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach, issued the following statement on the Liberals’ decision to undermine establishing a Memorial Day for the Crimean Tatars:
“In 2016, Conservatives proposed Bill C-306 to establish a Crimean Tatar Deportation (“Sürgünlik”) Memorial Day to recognize the 200,000 Crimean Tatars deported by the Soviet Union in 1944 as genocide.
“While this legislation gained widespread support, the Liberals used their majority to defeat this bill at second reading in the House of Commons. With the introduction of a non-binding motion with similar content in an election year, the Liberals are once again putting their partisan interests ahead of what’s best for Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.
“The vast majority of Liberal MPs denied Crimean Tatars from memorializing a significant time in their history. Canadians will not forget the Liberals’ shameful voting record when they had the opportunity to do the right thing.
“By defeating Bill C-306, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals once again confirm that they are more interested in appeasing Vladimir Putin than standing up for Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and those oppressed by Putin’s regime.
“Canada’s Conservatives will continue to stand with Ukrainians, Crimeans, and all those fighting to uphold freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”