Stoney soldier Joe Poucette remembered for bravery after WW II death
'We hold our warriors in high esteem,' says Stoney Elder about WW II Rifleman
Rifleman Joe Poucette enlisted in the military in secret.
He made sure his paperwork was complete before he told his family: he was the only soldier from Stoney Nakoda First Nation west of Calgary to serve in the Second World War.
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But he didn't have to worry about their reaction to the news he was volunteering to fight for Canada.
"The community had a powwow for him, honouring him," said niece Tina Fox. "They gave him a name and a ceremonial song, and the next day he went off to war."
Fox was too young to remember her Uncle Joe, but now as an elder of the First Nation, she is committed to honouring his memory and sharing his story with younger generations.
"We hold our warriors in high esteem and that's what he was. He represented that to our people."
'Big in heart and bravery'
Poucette enlisted in Calgary on Oct. 25, 1943.
He wasn't a tall man, but big in heart and bravery.- Niece Tina Fox
He was a slight man, and military records show he was just "five feet three inches, and his weight is 120 to 125 pounds."
Fox says his diminutive status has become part of his legacy.
"He wasn't a very tall man, but big in heart and bravery," she said.
An appraisal, written after 48 days of basic training, found "his score is not truly indicative of his ability."
He was a "good mixer" and it was anticipated he would "adjust well to service life."
An avid outdoorsman, ranch-hand and cowboy, Poucette's commanding officer listed his special skills as a "farmer and trapper."
Royal Winnipeg Rifles
He requested a position with an infantry unit and was assigned to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
It is perhaps no surprise that Rifleman Poucette was able to mix easily with soldiers with very different backgrounds than his own.
He was, after all, a product of a residential school, which had the aim of erasing his indigenous culture.
Looking back, more than seven decades later, there is a unmistakable irony in Poucette's willingness to fight for a country that discriminated against him in law and practice.
"He's resilient, he's brave," said Fox. "He didn't say, 'This is what residential school did to me.' He stepped out of it and went off to war."
And Poucette wrote home, to the local schoolchildren and to his family.
Two precious letters still exist, including one to his brother, Noah Poucette.
Written from "somewhere in France," the letter is intentionally vague and gives no detail about the battles in which we know Joe Poucette would have been fighting.
He limits his correspondence to cheerful chit-chat — asking about his girlfriend, Kay, and the annual Calgary Stampede that he was missing.
He would never see another Calgary Stampede.
After 43 days in theatre, Rifleman Joe Poucette was killed in action in Normandy, France, during the Victory of Falaise.
A telegram arrived at what was then called the Morley Reserve, notifying Poucette's mother, Jennie, of his death.
Buried in France
Poucette is buried at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian Military Cemetery in France.
A memorial headstone sits between the graves of his brother and his mother at a cemetery at the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
"It gives me goose bumps. His story does stand out," said Calgary author Anne Gafiuk, who felt a connection to Poucette immediately.
She was making a book from the wartime clipping scrapbook of an Okotoks resident, the late Alice Spackman, when she ran across one short newspaper obituary of Poucette's death, entitled "Rflmn. Joe Poucette Won't See Snow Again."
Over two years, Gafiuk researched and learned enough details of Poucette's life and death, his story has become four pages in her new book, "She Made Them Family: A wartime scrapbook from the Prairies."
'He was a hero'
"He wanted to fight for Canada." Gafiuk said. "He wanted to do his part, but also as a First Nations man."
Every year around Remembrance Day, Tina Fox tells the story of her Uncle Joe to school children to ensure his legacy lives in her community through traditional Chiniki Nakoda oral storytelling.
This year, she will lay also a memorial wreath at the cenotaph at the Royal Canadian Legion in nearby Cochrane.
A small honour for the brave Stoney warrior who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"He was a hero," said Fox.
"He still is to me."
- Read some of the historical documents surrounding his enlistment.
- Read more stories from CBC Aboriginal