D-Day vet taking leap of faith, 74 years later

Canadian war veteran Jack Commerford was just 17 when he joined up in June 1941 and volunteered to become a paratrooper. Fate intervened and he missed his chance to jump from a plane — until now.

Jack Commerford volunteered to become a paratrooper, but fate intervened

Canadian war veteran Jack Commerford holds a portrait of himself as a teenage soldier in 1942, shortly before embarking for Europe. (Christine Maki/CBC)

Canadian war veteran Jack Commerford was just 17 when he joined up in June 1941.

He soon put his name forward to become a paratrooper, but shortly before the two-year training course could begin, the young soldier was hit by a truck.

I thought this would be a good time to do it.- Jack Commerford, veteran

"I was delivering a message on my bike, went through a stop sign and got run over," Commerford told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

"It didn't break my leg or do any damage to the joints, but the damage was enough that — and so close to my going on my training for the parachuting — that they had to cancel."

Instead, Commerford became a machine gun instructor, then trained as an anti-aircraft gunner. In 1943 he shipped off to England, where he and his battery guarded the coast from the Luftwaffe.

In June 1944, the young gunner waded ashore at Juno Beach as part of the Normandy invasion, and spent the next year fighting his way across France, Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany, where he was stationed when the Germans surrendered.

Jumping Saturday

He never did get to jump out of a plane. Until now.

On Saturday, Commerford, now 94, will go on a tandem skydive over Gananoque, Ont.

"Since I wasn't able to parachute during the war and it's something I always wanted to do, I thought this would be a good time to do it," the veteran said.

Commerford said he began thinking about a jump to celebrate his 93rd birthday, but his doctor strongly advised against it due to his osteoporosis.

"He said I must not do it. But this year I didn't go to my doctor and I don't want to listen to what he said a year ago. But don't tell him that."

Thinking of D-Day comrades

Commerford said he isn't worried about his medical condition because he's been taking bone density medication, and won't be landing on his legs.

"I found out on this jump I don't have to land on my feet. I can land on my behind — that's what I intend to do."

Commerford believes it's his adventurous attitude that's seen him to his 94th birthday, but he admits he's had to slow down a bit.

"I stopped downhill skiing because of an injury at the age of 78. Water-skiing I stopped at the age of I think 87, because of an injury ... I don't heal as quickly as I used to."

Commerford said he'll be thinking of his comrades who landed in Normandy alongside him all those years ago.

"I think of them often. They're indelibly printed, I guess, in my memory."

With files from Christine Maki