Even tiny Nakusp has a connection to one of the largest invasions in military history.
“Earl Moffat was in the army for D-Day,” says Nakusp Legion first vice-president Ken Williams.
Moffat, though from Saskatchewan, lived in Nakusp for 50 years, raising his family after moving there in the mid-1950s.
“They told him, ‘You’re going to be driving a jeep on D-Day for a colonel,’” says Williams.
“Now, this was very close to D-Day. And Earl thought about it and said, ‘We’re going to be coming off this landing craft, they don’t go anywhere near the beach. This jeep is going to be going into the water, and it’s going to stop the engine, because there’ll be water in the carburetor, and the exhaust.
“So he outfitted his Jeep with special pipes, and when he landed he just drove off the landing craft and onto the beach, and he was apparently the only one to make it without his officer getting his feet wet.”
The funny anecdote can’t mask the real horror and violence of that day.
“I asked Earl, ‘Were you scared on D-Day?’” recalls Williams. “And he said ‘Scared? I got out of that damn Jeep, and found cover until we could go up the hill.’”
Moffat, who passed away a few years ago, isn’t the only connection to the historic assault on Normandy’s beaches.
Williams’ father was also an active participant — not from the water, but from the air.
“My father was a navigator, and his bomber led its squadron, and their squadron led its group over on D-Day,” recalls Williams.
“I said to my dad, ‘D-Day started at 6 a.m.’ He said ‘Yeah, the invasion did, but the air invasion started at midnight the day before.’”
Williams’ father did two bombing runs that week in support of the ground troops.
“They bombed that night, had a break, ate breakfast, then loaded up again and bombed the next night as well,” he says.
He says it’s hard to imagine what these young men went through.
“They signed up to go to war because of the excitement. They were all young people,” he says. “Then all of a sudden they had to go and hit the beaches, and they knew a lot of them weren’t going to come back. That’s really something else, what they did. They couldn’t turn around after they were in. But they went ahead and did it.”
Williams’ father eventually made it home safely. At least, in body. Like many veterans, the war was something to put behind him.
“My dad, when he came home after the war, wanted to forget about it and get on with life,” he says. He recalls when his father went to a reunion of his old bomber group.
“I asked my dad if he saw anybody he knew there, but he wouldn’t talk to me about the reunion,” recalls Williams. “And I asked my mom, and she said ‘Are you stupid? His friends were either killed, or are old, or are dead. There was no one there he’s going to know.’”
For decades, members of the Nakusp Legion have remembered the men from their community who left for that war, and the seven from the community that didn’t return.
Now, the living memory of the war is passing on. Nakusp’s oldest vet recently passed away at 102.
The stark reality of the passage of time means there’s a danger we can forget the lessons taught by that war, and what led up to it, says Williams.
“One of the reasons for the war was economics — and bigotry. It was a whole mess of things, starting with the economy in Germany in the Dirty ‘30s” he says.
“So when you see economic situations like that coming around again, it affects us as well. We can’t forget how this happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”