B.C. veteran receives France's highest honour for role in Second World War liberation
'I'm very grateful,' said Edward Fletcher, 91-year-old veteran
More than 70 years after Edward Fletcher helped liberate France during D-Day Normandy landings, a token of thanks from the French government arrived by courier at his front door in Coquitlam, B.C.
It was the Legion of Honour, France's highest national award. "I'm very grateful," said Fletcher, 91, and "very proud" too.
Fletcher was just 19 when he joined thousands of Canadian soldiers who stormed Normandy's Juno Beach in June 1944. The victory was a turning point in the war and led to the liberation of Europe.
The fighting involved fierce combat. Fletcher, who was a gun operator, was blown from his tank several times and shot. He suffered shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and leg, according to Steve Foreman, his son-in-law.
At one point, after he and a fellow soldier were thrown from a tank, they were crawling through some long grass when the Germans lit the grass on fire to try to flush them out. Foreman says they also sprayed the grass with bullets.
Tracey Foreman, Fletcher's daughter, said her dad rarely spoke of his war experiences, but she, her two brothers, and her mother are thrilled.
"It's such an honour," said Foreman.
In 2013, the French government announced it would give the award to all living veterans to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day the following year. However, it was up to veterans to apply, or be nominated, before Dec. 31, 2013.
Veterans Affairs Canada informed local Legions and veterans' associations, but hundreds of people fell through the cracks.
In many cases, they were unaware of the reward. The French government eventually extended the deadline to July 2015.
Last summer, Fletcher, with the help of a friend, applied.
Fletcher said he wishes more Canadians who fought alongside him were alive to receive the medal.