‘Very proud’: B.C. Second World War veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Click to play video: 'This Is BC: Honouring a WWII veteran on his 100th birthday'
This Is BC: Honouring a WWII veteran on his 100th birthday
He's an incredible man with an unbelievable story to tell. Jack Burch is a Second World War veteran who carried out numerous bombing missions and lived to tell about it. Jay Durant has more on this Canadian hero - and how the community he's spent decades in - rallied around him for a milestone birthday. – May 17, 2022

It’s been awhile since Burnaby’s Jack Burch sported a bomber jacket and pilot cap, but he had to look the part on his big day.

“Do I have to do anything?” asked Burch, one of few surviving Second World War veterans, before his 100th birthday celebration began on Monday.

“Just enjoy yourself,” responded master of ceremonies Mike MacDonald, immediate past president of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada B.C. Provincial Command.

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A pipe band led the parade honouring Burch on his centenary celebration. The event also included an evening Royal Canadian Air Force flight over the long-term care home where he resides.

“I feel very proud to be here and accepting this honour on behalf of my comrades, especially the ones that are not here now,” said Burch, his jacket heavy with medals.

Burch flew 34 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe without a scratch — an impressive feat, said his son-in-law Mark Walker, given the life expectancy for a Second World War bomber pilot was around five or six missions at the time.

“He had some interesting and harrowing stories about bombing at night, crossing the channel and flying over enemy territory in the dark,” Walker told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Pair of Royal Canadian Air Force veterans land in N.B. after cross-country flight'
Pair of Royal Canadian Air Force veterans land in N.B. after cross-country flight

Walker said Burch got his crew — and for the most part, his plane — back safely every time.

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The honoured veteran, however, has too many memories of close calls while caught under German spotlights and heavy enemy fire.

“They were at me for about five minutes, then the lights went out. It was my lucky day,” said Burch, remembering one particularly terrifying encounter.

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Burch got into the newspaper business when he returned to B.C. after the war.

For more than four decades, he was the owner and publisher of The Highland Echo, whose office was in the heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy.

“He knew everybody. He’d walk down Commercial Drive and he would have a coffee. Sometime you had to go in the back and have a little grappa with somebody,” Walker recalled.

Click to play video: 'Canadian veterans on the ground in Ukraine with ambulances and medical supplies'
Canadian veterans on the ground in Ukraine with ambulances and medical supplies

Burch’s bravery in combat earned him Canada’s Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded to officers and Warrant Officers for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty, performed while flying in active operations against the enemy.

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Three years ago, Burch took his last flight — a trip in a glider and tow plane on the same day.

“He didn’t look out the window very much, if at all,” said MacDonald, who piloted the plane that day. “He just stared at the instruments. It was like he was sitting at a desk in an office from a long time ago.”

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Burch said he’s not one for big celebrations but this one was special — surrounded by family, friends and so many others who wanted to honour a Canadian hero.

“I didn’t join up for this kind of a show, but wow,” he laughed. “If I thought we were charging admission I’d have doubled it.”

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