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Blue Blogging Soapbox
...rambling rants, thoughts and musings on mostly political topics - from your late night blogger.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

One last trip 
(en francais)

This from a local columnist who I usually disagree with. On this subject though, I wholeheartedly agree. The Canadian government paid for the first disastrous trip to Dieppe by these veterans. At the very least, the government can do the same for their last.

Of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked for the operation only 2,210 returned to England, and many of these were wounded. There were 3,367 casualties, including 1,946 prisoners of war; 907 Canadians lost their lives.

The Essex virtually ceased to exist after Dieppe. Of 540 all ranks who embarked, only 48 returned, and many of these men were wounded.

One CF Airbus should do the trick.
'These guys' get their due(subscription only)

Gord Henderson, Windsor Star
Published: Saturday, May 13, 2006

Signing the guest book at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery where dozens of young men from Windsor and Essex County are spending eternity, Mike Beale felt compelled to include a question.

"How do we find a way to remember these guys?" he wrote while seated in the stone nave of that achingly beautiful hillside cemetery where the dead, buried in long double rows by their German foes, are serenaded by songbirds and bumblebees.

"These guys" were the 907 Canadians killed during the disastrous Aug. 19, 1942, raid on the French seaport of Dieppe, including 121 members of the Windsor-based Essex Scottish Regiment. And the question posed by Beale, a city businessman on a European pilgrimage, was rhetorical. Or so he thought.

Fast-forward to last spring, and Beale, an honorary member of the Essex and Kent Scottish, was in the non-commissioned officers' mess at Fort Knox in Kentucky, the main U.S. army armour training centre, after a day spent observing Windsor reservists on training exercises.

Seated across from his buddy, Lt. Col. Phil Berthiaume, Essex and Kent's commanding officer, Beale was enjoying his first sip of a single malt scotch when Berthiaume dangled the hook. He explained that the regiment's memorial plaque in Dieppe was in rough shape and needed replacing.

"I hadn't even punched a hole in the bottle," said Beale. But that didn't keep him from leaping at the bait. "We can do that. Sure. No problem," he glibly assured Berthiaume. The next morning the scale of the challenge dawned. "Mike. You've got your mouth in gear. Now you've got to deliver," he told himself.

FINISH LINE IN SIGHT

A big challenge, yes. But also a gift. He recalled the words he'd written in the cemetery. "How do we find a way to remember these guys?" Now he had a way. An ideal way. And it had just fallen into his lap.

A year later, Beale and his project committee are nearing the finish line. They've raised about $100,000 in cash and hundreds of thousands more in donated goods and services.

What began with 20 bucks worth of lumber, used to build a mock-up of the proposed memorial, has evolved into a civic cause that has drawn support from every age group and from organizations as diverse as the CAW and Rotary.

Beale, who described his role as "whining and arm-twisting and generally making a nuisance of myself," was blown away by Windsor's response. Two DaimlerChrysler workers, Jim Lee and Ken Rose, organized a plant gate collection and in a single day raised $5,400, on top of the CAW's $25,000 contribution.

"It's just been a wonderful, wonderful ride," said Beale. What really affected him was how students at several area schools bought in. At Prince Edward elementary school, for instance, the kids raised $588.17. "It might as well have been a million as far as I'm concerned," he marvelled.

Even the thumbs-downs helped. When Air Canada and Air France declined to do anything special (Beale said he could find better deals on the internet) to help 12 vets and their caregivers get to France for the August ceremony, local contributions soared. "It helped us in a backhanded kind of way."

A story in last Saturday's Star sparked new interest and four more Essex Scottish vets, including one living in California, now want to make this last trip. "So be it. These guys have got to go. That's all there is to it," said Beale.

A positive thinker by nature, he's unwilling to pose the obvious question. Where the heck is the federal government in this? If the nation was prepared to give its soldiers a free ride to France in 1942, why isn't it doing the same thing now? Why is it leaving it to school kids to raise nickels and dimes to do the right thing?

Beale said National Defence has been very helpful in getting people to Dieppe on scouting and prep missions and will fly the three-tonne granite memorial to Europe on June 14.

The vets will likely fly out of Detroit on a discount airline. But Beale's dream scenario, the one he wishes the feds could visualize, would have a military aircraft departing Windsor Airport for France with the vets and their supporters. There would be a brass band and a cheering crowd. In other words, a proper final send off for heroes.

It would be a class act and powerful demonstration of our collective gratitude. Surely that's not too much to ask.
Cross posted from the Torch

Paul Synnott at 7:48 AM    | en francais | Go to Top|


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