French Legion of Honour for Vancouver Island man 70 years after D-Day
"I just hope I was worth it," says 93-year-old Bruce MacKenzie
A 93-year-old Vancouver Island man has received the Legion of Honour, France's highest award for a non-citizen, for his efforts in the liberation of that country more than 70 years ago.
"I'm surprised that they're putting so much emphasis on older [veterans], said Bruce MacKenzie in an interview before a special award ceremony.
"I think the new people in the armed forces are going through probably worse than we did."
MacKenzie was informed of the award just weeks ago by Jean-Christophe Fleury, the Consul General of France in Vancouver as the country continues to mark anniversaries of its liberation from Nazi occupation.
Still, June 1944 is a long time ago in Bruce MacKenzie's life.
After the war, he became a pediatric dentist in Edmonton, raised four children with his wife Nikki and then moved to Vancouver Island in 1975 to be close to the ocean and enjoy retirement.
A busy life after the war
Still he admits to often thinking about his part in World War II.
"Those things certainly do go through your mind, you relive them," he said.
Mackenzie was born in Stettler, Alta and enlisted when he was 19 years-old. By 22 he was flying a Supermarine Spitfire for the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the D-Day invasion force.
"And in that time then we were really involved. I put in something like 60 sorties in the time of the Normandy campaign," he said. His total missions were 131 by the time the war was over.
He says his Allied squadron was the first to return to France and at the end of hostilities, the country awarded him its Croix de Guerre for heroism in combat.
Now decades later comes the Legion of Honour which was presented at a glitzy event in Vancouver, attended by other veterans, officials, and politicians.
Great night with <a href="https://twitter.com/Mike_de_Jong">@Mike_de_Jong</a> honouring Canadian D Day recipients of the Légion d’honneur and VE Day 70th Anniversay <a href="http://t.co/HRu32TuYwv">pic.twitter.com/HRu32TuYwv</a>—@honourhouse
"Well I'm surprised, everything went quiet after the war," he said. "We were all busy getting an education and getting families and getting started so it was out of our minds, now it's been revived because of the anniversaries so it came as a surprise."
'Hey I survived'
"Hoping that I was worth it all that I really deserved it. You do wonder about that. I know lots of people have done as much as I did or more and I think what goes through my mind is 'hey I survived and a lot of my friends didn't.'"
He says those are the memories that are toughest to cope with, his fellow pilots who didn't return from missions. If too many thoughts about the war pop into his mind, he tries to quiet them by thinking about playing tennis, which he gave up last year, or golf.
"Imagine myself out playing tennis or something like that or maybe scoring a hole in one, those types of things and then you forget about the war entirely," he said.
His wife Nikki describes MacKenzie as modest but is proud of what he did in those times.
"He'd be the last person to demand anything," she said. "I feel he's most deserving. He's been a very good citizen of this country."
MacKenzie says the secrets to his long, happy life have been his family, keeping active and playing duplicate bridge.