Every year, Remembrance Day stirs up mixed emotions for Canadian veteran Stuart Vallieres.
It’s a reminder of the sacrifice he made for his country, of the horror he witnessed and of the friends he lost in the Second World War.
“On Armistice Day, yes, it’s emotional. I think about my crew,” he told Global News.
Nov. 11 also happens to be Vallieres’ birthday; this year, he turns 95.
“I don’t think I have done any more than anyone else who put on a uniform, but I’m happy to be a survivor,” he said from his home in Côte Saint-Luc.
Alongside his brother, Stuart joined the Canadian Army when he was just 18 years old.
His father had served in the Air Force in the First World War and he said, in 1940 when he enlisted, he felt it was the right thing to do.
“There was a lot of banner-waving and patriotic feeling,” he said.
“You felt that if you were not in uniform, you were not doing your part.”
He trained as a gunner on the Halifax Bomber in England.
Within weeks, he joined a squadron of seven.
Vallieres started flying night missions, bombing targets over France and Germany.
“It was pretty terrifying, but it was over quickly. You weren’t over the target for very much time,” he recalled.
In 1944, during a mission, Germans attacked Vallieres’ plane over northern France.
“It’s so quick, all of a sudden we were on fire and we were going down,” he said.
Vallieres had been shot, and the other gunner on the bomber had been killed.
Everyone abandoned the plane by parachute.
Vallieres landed in a grain field, alone and bleeding heavily; he’d been shot in the leg.
“I figured I needed a tourniquet because I’m bleeding too fast, so I took my cigarette lighter and burned my cords on my parachute and made a tourniquet,” he said.
The Germans found him, placed him in a military hospital and amputated his leg.
“I was devastated,” he said.
“At that time, most available work was physical. You either worked on a farm or the bush. How the hell do you do it with one leg?”
He remained a prisoner of war, until the allies liberated northern France.
When Vallieres returned to Canada, he vowed his disability wouldn’t hobble him.
He got heavily involved in the War Amps.
Today, he’s the chairperson of the national board of directors, as well as national director of the Montreal branch.
He said he takes pride in helping others – especially children – who’ve lost limbs.
“You see a girl with both her legs, going down the hall and turning somersaults. It’s a good feeling, yes,” he said.
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Vallieres said he didn’t talk much about the war after it was over, but he did stay close with his squadron.
The sixth member died two years ago.
“We had our little reunions. It was kind of a special feeling. Now, they are all gone,” he said.
Vallieres credits his beloved wife, Dot, for helping him navigate the difficult postwar years; they’ve been married 72 years.
She suffers from Alzheimers and lives in a home, where Vallieres visits her every day.
He said they don’t really talk any more, they just sit and look at each other.
Vallieres said, as he holds her hand, he remembers the war, his lost friends and his love for his wife.