Regina man's search for father's history as WWII vet turned into book

Mark Cote always knew a bit about his father’s history in World War II, the fact that he was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp and faced uncertain survival. But the University of Regina geography instructor never got to know the full story, as his dad passed away when he was only eight.

Mark Cote wanted to learn more about his father, but never expected to end up writing a biography

Mark Cote will be signing copies of his recently published book That Lucky Old Son at the University of Regina book store on Wednesday afternoon. (Submitted by Mark Cote)

Mark Cote always knew a bit about his father's history in World War II, the fact that he was a prisoner of war and faced uncertain survival.

But the University of Regina geography instructor never got to know the full story, as his dad passed away when he was only eight.  

"I knew he was shot down, I knew he was a PoW. But I was a young lad," he said. "I didn't know an awful lot about what he had experienced."

Over the past decade, Cote has been researching and interviewing dozens of people to learn more about his dad's history. The stories have turned into a book that Cote recently published. He will be doing book signings this week at the University of Regina bookstore, Coles and Chapters.

That Lucky Old Son is a biography, weaving together Cote's childhood memories with firsthand accounts of the war, told through his father's eyes.

Leonard Cote, who was from Lampman, Sask., joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he was taken prisoner, but eventually he made his way home. (Photo submitted by Mark Cote)

Leonard Cote and his fellow Royal Canadian Air Force members had been sent on an operation to Berlin when his plane was shot, right under where he had been sitting.

"The plane was too damaged to make it back to England. Most of the crew bailed out over the Netherlands, and were captured there," said Cote.

Leonard suffered in a prisoner-of-war camp, contracting tuberculosis and pleurisy in his time there. He was part of a prisoner exchange and was sent home, but was never the same.  

"His lungs were very weak. That was just dad to us, of course," said Cote, adding he grew up thinking it was normal for families to have to do chest compressions and clear mucus for their parents to be able to breathe.

After coming home from war, Leonard Cote would go on to have six children with his wife, Molly, the four eldest children are pictured with the couple. (Photo submitted by Mark Cote)

Through his research and talking to other members of his father's squadron, he came to understand his father better. He also came to understand what he called "the quiet competence" and lack of bravado among people of that generation.

"The way my father acted, it made sense. This wasn't unique that he was humble," said Cote.

Story for a generation

A Foreword Clarion Review described the book as the "result of deep research, personal interviews, and a fully engaged imagination," with the retelling of experiences in the war giving the book a sense of taut immediacy.

Cote has been pleased with the response to the book from family, friends, and veterans themselves, for whom he had published the book, which is available to purchase online.

It's not only Dad's story. It's everybody's story.- Mark Cote, That Lucky Old Son author

He had given one of his students a copy to pass along to his grandfather, himself a veteran.

The student reported his grandfather loved the book, with Cote recalling, "He said, 'It captured the way it was.'"

Hearing that made Cote feel as if he had done what he set out to do.

"It's not only Dad's story," he said. "It's everybody's story."