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Second World War veterans to drop puck at Edmonton Oilers game: ‘That’s something big for me’

WATCH ABOVE: Second World War veteran Walter Szwender, 95, is one of three veterans who will drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday night. He recalls being injured by enemy fire in May 1944 during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Three Second World War veterans have been invited to drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday night as the team marks Remembrance Day.

Walter Szwender, 95, is one of the veterans.

“They asked me to take part in that ceremony of Nov. 11, drop the puck. So that’s something big for me,” he said from his Edmonton home Friday.

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Szwender was born in Miedzyrzecze, Poland in 1924 and, despite dissuasion from his parents, joined the Polish army when he was just 17.

“It was pretty tough for a while but I’d get used to it. We lived like a family, with the same people from ’42 to ’46. We grew up in the army.”

Photos of Walter Szwender, now 95, during his time with the Polish Army.
Photos of Walter Szwender, now 95, during his time with the Polish Army. Global News

Szwender served from February 1942 to November 1946. He has vivid memories of being injured by enemy fire in May 1944 during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.

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“We attacked on the 17th of May, 1944 with tanks… That’s where I was wounded with six other guys,” he recalled.

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“We were attacking German positions in front of us with tanks. That’s where Germany (was) shooting with heavy artillery and shells were falling all over the place. One shell fell not far from us and that’s where I got five different shrapnels in five different places in my body.”

Szwender was taken to hospital in Casa Massimo. He rejoined his unit two months later.

“I was with my friends, with my family.”

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After the war ended, Szwender stayed in Italy and performed guard duty until an opportunity arose to come to Canada to work on a farm.

“At that time, 5,000 Polish soldiers were supposed to come to Canada. But on that first boat from Italy, there were 1,691 of us who landed in Halifax on Nov. 11, 1946… When we landed in Halifax, that was the end of service.”

Walter Szwender, 95, is a Second World War veteran. He and two other veterans will drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
Walter Szwender, 95, is a Second World War veteran. He and two other veterans will drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Global News

From Halifax, Szwender took a train to Edmonton and worked in Vermilion for about two years. He spent another five summers loading barges in Fort Smith, N.W.T., before moving back to Edmonton.

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War veterans to take part in special ceremony at Rogers Place
War veterans to take part in special ceremony at Rogers Place

He would eventually marry in 1950. He and his wife had five children — three boys and two girls. He worked in Edmonton as a mailman for 30 years, a job he remembers fondly.

“I like that job very, very much. It was a very, very good job. I retired in ’89 and stayed here in this place for the last 51 years, in this house.”

Szwender says he can recall every Nov. 11 that’s come and gone since he landed in Canada. It’s a day that’s important, not just for him.

“It is for all my friends who got killed there or passed away after the war,” he said.

“I’m the lucky one who survived. At 95 years, I can celebrate that day and remember them.

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“If not for those guys, we probably never would have had freedom that we enjoy today.”

Szwender is going to the game with his son and grandson. While he admits he prefers the ambiance at home over the arena, he’s honoured to take part in the ceremony.

“I prefer watching hockey games on TV instead of going to Rogers. I went there, it was very noisy,” he said with a laugh.

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Norm Anger, 101, from Whitecourt, and Bill Adkins, 93, from Edmonton, are the other two veterans taking part Friday night at Rogers Place.

Walter Szwender, 95, is a Second World War veteran. He and two other veterans will drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
Walter Szwender, 95, is a Second World War veteran. He and two other veterans will drop the puck at the Edmonton Oilers game Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Global News