Traveling has always been extremely important to me. As a Theatre and History student, I’m very interested in the world around us! I made a promise to myself that the next time I went to Europe, I would go to Juno Beach. Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII and my Grampy Ross was among the first group of Canadian soldiers to storm Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944. Both my dad and I had Juno Beach on our bucket lists. In 2015, my dad got there and almost exactly two years later, I got there too.
I arrived at Juno Beach on a cool morning near the end of May. The air was filled with a light mist as I walked over the bank to the beach – I was speechless. It was about 8 a.m. when I walked over the brown sand and sat halfway down the beach. It was empty. I imagined what it must have felt like on that fateful day in 1944 – I couldn’t. I sat there teary-eyed, whispering “thank-you” under my breath. How did I get so lucky? People that I didn’t even know sacrificed their lives so I could sit here today, unharmed. People my age, that would have been my friends, my family and even me. Why them and not me? Why? I struggled with these questions as I sat there. My heart was filled with thankfulness and sadness as I breathed in the salt air. As I sat there in the cold sand, I promised myself that I would do good in the world – that I wouldn’t take this life for granted. So many people had their lives taken away and it is our responsibility to live as fully and wholly as possible to honour them. We owe them that much. I sat there humbled and knew this was a moment I would never forget.
I walked along the beach, took in the monuments and toured the museum. The staff at the museum were kind and compassionate. The museum is a must-see. It’s incredibly well curated and the staff are there to answer any of your questions (French & English).
After touring the museum and walking along the beach, I was sitting on a bench when a woman approached me. She asked where I was from and I replied with “Canada”. She didn’t speak much English but thankfully I speak French and I was able to communicate with her. I told her that my Grampy was among the first Canadian soldiers to land on Juno Beach. Tears started to form in her eyes. She shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said: “Thank you for coming to save us.” At this point, tears were welling up in both of our eyes. I hugged her. She told me that her father had been imprisoned by the Nazi regime for 5 years and without the Canadian troops, he would have died. I was speechless and in awe. In this moment, I was so proud to be Canadian. Our ties with France remain so strong and intergenerational. This was a moment of complete amazement for me. This woman was thanking me for saving her father but I had nothing to do with that. It was my ancestors, my country and the ties that we share. This memory will remain etched in my brain forever.
If you have the opportunity to visit the Juno Beach Centre, I strongly encourage you to take it. It was such a moving experience. I’m so thankful to have sat on Juno Bech, teary-eyed and thankful.
This Remembrance Day, please take a couple minutes of silence. Thank you for your sacrifice. We are eternally grateful. Lest we forget.