Editorial: Vanishing memories all the more valuable

Tomorrow marks 75 years since Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, launching Operation Overlord, the campaign that turned the tide of the Second World War in favour of Canada and her allies.

By June 6, 1944, the war – the deadliest in human history – had raged for nearly five years. And by the time it ended, in August, 1945, the conflict had claimed more than 56 million lives.

Each Nov. 11, many of us stop to remember them and to pay tribute to the sacrifice of soldiers who fought and died for Canada in conflicts around the world.

Every year, the number of Second World War veterans attending Remembrance Day services at cenotaphs across Canada grows smaller and we lose a vital link to our history. As firsthand accounts of the horrors grow fewer, they become all the more valuable to us as a society.

That’s one of the reasons we were so pleased to have been able to sit down last week with Bill Cameron before he returned to France for 75th anniversary D-Day ceremonies.

Now 95, the South Surrey man vividly recalls the day he and his shipmates aboard the HMCS Kitchener were assigned to provide support for U.S. troops at Omaha Beach. His job was to sight and shoot down enemy aircraft as they sped by at 450-500 mph.

He recalls that there wasn’t a bit of sea without a ship, nor a piece of sky without a plane as Allied forces approached the beaches of Normandy that morning.

He remembers being scared, but focused on the job he’d been assigned.

Although not Canada’s most recent conflict, perhaps because of its sheer scope, or the fact a genuine force for evil was defeated in Europe, the Second World War is the one we tend to romanticize. Its stories are certainly the most often committed to film or novels.

Already, these fictionalized versions, however great the pains taken to ensure accuracy, are many Canadians’ main source of information about the war. Documentaries and actual historical accounts simply don’t have the panache to draw larger audiences.

So it’s important, even as we get swept up in the drama and romance, that we remember there were real men, women and children who died – often in ways more terrible than we care to imagine.

We say it every year – Lest We Forget – but if there was ever a time to really listen to those who actually do remember, this is it, before their voices fall silent.

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