Students set to travel to Juno Beach with Second World War veteran
Published Wednesday, May 21, 2014 7:04PM EDT
For teenagers, the events of 1944 are distant history.
But for some students in Shelburne, that history came alive today with the help of a special teacher.
Those students are getting ready to take a remarkable trip to Juno Beach, and that teacher – a Second World War veteran – is coming with them.
Tony Balch says it’s hard to believe almost 70 years have passed since he was on a ship approaching Normandy.
“I went on the upper deck on the morning on the June 6 just to see where we were and what we were doing,” he says. “We hadn't started bombarding at that time. I came up on deck, and witnessed this veritable armada of ships as far as the eye could see in every direction. It was quite incredible.”
What came next is now one of history's most famous battles: The Second World War’s D-Day, when allied troops fought their way from Juno Beach into Normandy, which was held by the Germans.
Balch was just 17 years old on D-Day. Today, he's 87 and getting ready to return to the beach where so many men lost their lives.
He won't be alone though. By his side on Juno Beach will be 21 students from Centre Dufferin District High School in Shelburne. Together, they will commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day next month.
Veterans Affairs approached the high school with an invitation to students and staff to take in the historic anniversary, but that's not all. They also made an offer for two students to speak publically at the ceremony. They will be the only two Canadian students to do so.
Jeff Allen and Rebecca Janke will both read the poem A Commitment to Remember to veterans, dignitaries, and thousands of people.
“I think it will be really emotional,” says Janke. “It'll change my perspective on a lot of things, standing with people who've lived through the terrors and horrors.”
Allen adds, “Being in their presence, the veterans, it's really something special to me because they're actually there when we get to be alone with them and they can share their legacy with them.”
Veterans will be the teachers on the up-coming trip.
“There are less and less veterans that are all alive and around to share their stories,” history teacher Shannon Rankin. “And it's important that teenagers and the youth are engaged in remembrance so that that torch can be carried on.”
Balch is looking forward to the anniversary, and it may not be his last.
“It's not beyond the possibility that I could attend the 80th anniversary,” he says.
If he's well enough, the veteran plans to visit Juno Beach yet again to honour his fellow troops and our history.