Jack Hilton is well aware he has beat the odds.
As a Typhoon fighter pilot, Hilton did more than 100 operations flights across Europe during the Second World War, including D-Day.
“In 28 days, I flew 28 times and 28 times you take off and land, you’re pushing your luck,” Hilton recalled on Sunday.
He said every time he took to the air, a quarter of men who went up, didn’t return.
“I went over to France with 28 pilots,” Hilton said of the mission overall. “Eight of us came home to Canada. I’ve seen things that humans shouldn’t see.”
Hilton was a guest at the Hangar Flight Museum’s Remembrance Day ceremony, sharing his personal stories despite the painful details. During the war, he survived being shot down, only to be sent up the next day. He said it became normal to see roommates drop from the sky.
“It’s upsetting,” Hilton said. “You can’t let it stop you because you’ve got a job to do. You get a new guy and he flies along with you and he disappears in flames and smoke but you can’t do anything about it.”
To help deal with the horrors he witnessed, Hilton wrote a book about his experiences called “The Saga of a Canadian Typhoon Fighter Pilot.”
In it, he recalls being offered his last rites by a priest who witnessed his plane crash.
Despite being surrounded by thankful admirers at the Remembrance Day ceremony, Hilton remains humble.
“It’s very touching and they treat me so well,” he said. “They say you’re a hero but I said, ‘No, I’m not a hero, I’m just a survivor.’ Other people are heroes who died.
“You are flying with a man beside you who is your roommate probably and all of a sudden, one man will explode and he would disappear. You go back and you pack up his gear and send it home.”
He contemplated the different world young people are living in now compared to when he joined the air force.
“Twenty-year-olds now are living with mom and dad, and playing video games. We were flying the stupid airplanes,” Hilton said.
Above all else, he hopes today’s youth will never have to experience what he and fellow veterans did.
“I’ve seen enough and don’t want to see anymore. War is horrible.”