Kitchener-Waterloo·Profile

WW2 veteran Art Boon on importance of Remembrance Day, even during a pandemic

Art Boon, 95, of Stratford, Ont., is a Second World War veteran. He normally would spend the days around Remembrance Day talking to students in classrooms about his experiences and taking part in public ceremonies, but this year is different because of COVID-19.

'A lot of us are also wounded because of the memories that linger there all the time,' Boon says

Art Boon poses beside a photo of himself when he was younger. Boon, 95, says while COVID-19 means there won't be any public ceremonies for people to attend on Remembrance Day, it's important people take a few minutes to think about those who fought for them. (Photo provided by Richard Boon)

Art Boon was 15 when he signed up to join the Canadian Army, 17 when he was sent to the United Kingdom for training and 18 when he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day.

Now, the 95-year-old Second World War veteran in Stratford, Ont., says even in the midst of a pandemic, he hopes people take a few minutes to remember those who made personal sacrifices for their freedom today.

Boon would often spend the days around Remembrance Day visiting his son, Richard Boon's, classroom to offer his perspective on the past. This year, due to COVID-19, he hasn't been able to go into classrooms. 

He will also be unable to gather with fellow veterans and the public like in years past, as there will not be any public ceremonies as large gatherings are not allowed.

Boon says he will mark Remembrance Day by remembering people lost during the war, including a man who worked alongside him in a tank.

"I happened to be the first guy to get out to help him after he got out of the tank and I think of him always on that day. And my father, who was a veteran of World War One and World War Two, and one uncle I had killed in Italy," Boon said.

"I think those people at that time more than normal, because you missed them over all those years, you know. It never goes away."

This image shows Art Boon in basic training in Kitchener, Ont., in 1941. (Photo provided by Art Boon/Richard Boon)

'All I could see was ships'

Boon joined the Canadian Army in 1940 and trained in London, Kitchener, Listowel, Camp Borden near Barrie and Petawawa before he went to the United Kingdom in 1942. 

His regiment was chosen to be part of the D-Day landing in France on June 6th, 1944.

"We went out into the channel and we were moving very slowly in convoy with all the other ships, all I could see was ships," Boon recalled during a phone interview from his home with Craig Norris, host of CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition

In the days after the landing, he said he and others became used to the sound of shells and bombing.

"You would hear shells coming in. And if you could still hear them in that area, you knew you were alright. It's the ones that you couldn't hear that you had to worry about," Boon said.

Richard Boon, left, accompanied his father Art to a Second World War ceremony in the Netherlands in 2015. The ceremony commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland. (Photo provided by Art Boon/Richard Boon)

Injured in battle

He was injured in the Battle of the Scheldt Estuary in Belgium when his tank was hit by a German shell and his right thumb was severely damaged. He also suffered burns.

"When I went back to a casualty clearing station, they were going to take [the thumb] off and I suggested to them that I would prefer to have a show on even if it don't work," Boon said.

That's what the staff did and he says while he still has problems with his thumb to this day, he was still able to play hockey and baseball. He even played on the Canadian Forces All-Star hockey and baseball teams that toured through Europe.

Upon his return home, he became a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Perth Regiment Veterans' Association, he was an instructor for St. John's Ambulance and also served as the curator of the Perth Regiment Museum.

This photo shows recruits holding up a recruiting poster in Stratford, Ont., in 1941. (Photo provided by Art Boon/Richard Boon)

'We have scars'

Boon says he hopes people will take a moment out of their day on Wednesday to reflect.

"It's just as important to remember it now, regardless of whether there's a pandemic or not. And remember why they're free and why they can go to church and school and have the freedom that they have. And that was bought by over 43,000 Canadian casualties in World War Two alone," he said.

"The price we pay for the freedom we have is very costly when it's human lives," he adds.

"Some of us … we have scars from being wounded, but a lot of us are also wounded because of the memories that linger there all the time, you know, but you have to live with that and get by it and keep going," Boon said. "It's just like everything else, the same with the pandemic, we've just got to keep working at it. Eventually we'll be clear of that and it's just another battle."

Art Boon was just 15 when he enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. He was 17 when he was sent to the United Kingdom for training and he was 18 when he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day. (Photo provided by Art Boon/Richard Boon)

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