Sask. WW II veteran who survived 4 plane crashes becomes honorary Snowbird

Reg "Crash" Harrison thought he was attending an air show in Moose Jaw, Sask., as a member of the audience. Then the spotlight turned on him.

Reg 'Crash' Harrison completed more than a dozen air raids over occupied Europe

Reg Harrison earned the middle name "Crash" after surviving four plane crashes in the Second World War. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Memories rushed back to Reg "Crash" Harrison as red and white planes of the Canadian Snowbirds soared over the tarmac of CFB Moose Jaw, Sask. 

The 97-year-old veteran from Lorlie, Sask., used to fly in the same squadron — 431 — during the Second World War. He earned his middle name after surviving four plane crashes.

In the years since, he has received many medals. On Friday he received a new distinction: Becoming an honorary Snowbird.

Harrison received that status in a surprise induction during the year-end show of Canada's air demonstration squadron.

The Canadian Snowbirds surprised Reg "Crash" Harrison as an honorary member on Friday during a year-end air show at CFB Moose Jaw, Sask. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

"I'd never thought I'd see this day," Harrison said.

"I'm both grateful for having to receive this great honour because every time I see the Snowbirds perform, it always amazes me what they can do because we certainly couldn't do that with the Halifax and Lancaster."

'Like a character out of Saving Private Ryan'

Harrison flew bombers in more than a dozen air raids over occupied Europe. 

"I'm fortunate to have survived the war when more than 50 per cent in bomber command never came back," Harrison said.

"Almost every day, I think of all of those."

Reg "Crash" Harrison used to be part of the 431 squadron, which is called now the Snowbirds. He admits he couldn't do stunts in a Halifax or Lancaster like the pilots can today. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Harrison recalls one instance where he was blown out of an aircraft and spent three months in a burn hospital in East Grinstead, England.

Another time, he crashed after landing with one wheel.

"When I first met Reg Harrison, it was like a character out of Saving Private Ryan," said Anthony Towstego, a documentary filmmaker from Saskatoon.

"He always said the true heroes were the ones that didn't come back and he really touched my heart that way."

Reg "Crash" Harrison has been decorated with many honours over the past 70 years for his service in the Second World War, but he's always wanted to become a Canadian Snowbird. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Towstego featured Harrison in his six-part, nationally televised documentary series called Canada Remembers, which has been endorsed by the Royal Canadian Legion's National Poppy and Remembrance Committee to distribute copies to schools across the country.

Rare honorary membership

Towstego brought Harrison to the Snowbirds' air show for his surprise commemoration. 

"It was really special to be apart of this," Towstego said.

"He's a great ambassador for all the veterans in some ways. They're all honorary Snowbirds, and I know Reg would feel that way too."

Lt.-Col. Mike French, commanding officer of the Canadian Snowbirds, presents veteran Reg "Crash" Harrison with an honorary membership. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The Snowbirds only induct two honorary members each year.

"It actually feels like more of an honour for us," said Lt.-Col. Mike French, commanding officer of the Snowbirds.

"We couldn't think of a better person."

With his honorary membership in hand, Harrison said he can plan for his next goal: Living to 100.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.