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North Bay soldiers honoured to participate in D-Day ceremony in France

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It was a sunny but solemn day in northern France as dignitaries and veterans marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day on the shores of Juno Beach.

Among those who reflected were two members of 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay, who were asked to participate in the ceremony.

It was a moment and ceremony Corp. Julie Rail and Corp. David Tessier said they will never forget.

“What it means for me is my grandfather was in the army for WWII and he was actually in the army for said invasion,” Rail said.

“So it was the circle of life and it worked for him to be in Normandy for then and then for me to come back 80 years later to honour that.”

The pair found out in May they were selected to attend. It was an emotional moment for them.

“The word moving is an understatement,” Tessier said.

“It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, being able to actually be there in the presence of those veterans and be there for this massive milestone in our country’s history.”

“I was standing guard on the dunes, just being as respectful as I can to our veterans.”

During the ceremony, both said they had a moment to themselves where they remembered the great sacrifice.

Hundreds attended the ceremony, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his French counterpart Gabriel Attal and Prince William, where they laid wreaths near the beach.

In the front row of the crowd were 13 Canadian veterans in military uniform, the oldest of them 104 years old, who survived the war effort on the same beach so many decades ago.

Among those who took part in the Normandy event were Corp. Julie Rail and Corp. David Tessier, members of 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay. It was a moment and ceremony said they will never forget. (Photo from Zoom)

'A very quick hello .. and thank you'

“What it boiled down to was a very quick hello and a wave and thank you,” Rail said, when she saw the veterans.

The veterans and their family members and companions then trudged towards the beach, leaving the crowd to take a quiet moment near the shore.

Around 14,000 Canadians joined Allied forces storming the beaches of Normandy 80 years ago, striking the Nazis on the western front. In all, 4,414 Allied troops were killed on the first day, including 381 Canadians.

“They are the very best that Canada has to offer. Calling them the greatest generation is an understatement,” Tessier said. “Everything they did was in the face of the opposition and tyranny.”

The final death toll was enormous: 73,000 Allied forces were killed and 153,000 wounded. Around 20,000 French civilians were also killed, many as a result of Allied bombings of French villages and cities.

Historians estimate about 22,000 German soldiers are among those buried around Normandy. Between 4,000 and 9,000 of them were killed, wounded or went missing during the D-Day invasion alone.

June 6, 1944, marked the beginning of the Allied liberation of France. The Allies pushed the German soldiers out, which eventually led to their surrender less than a year later.

“Hearing these legendary war days when you’re home in Canada, it just seems so far away and so distant,” Rail said.

“But being on the beach, it takes the distance away and makes it that much more realistic.”

The pair said they were grateful and humbled to be chosen to attend and are hoping that they can go back for the 100th-anniversary commemoration in 2044. 

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