Burnaby D-Day veterans awarded French medals

When Edmond Champoux stormed Juno Beach in Normandy back in 1944, his orders were clear: Don't look back, and don't stop to help anyone.
"They told us, 'The job for you guys is to gain the beach. Now if a guy gets hit and goes down, he can't help us any more.' We were told to just leave the guy right behind. You had to leave him there and keep on going," said Champoux, now 100 years old.
"We didn't really think about too much of anything - just go. We knew that's all we had to do. They did tell us we could not fail - you guys are landing on the beach, you've got to take control of the beach."
Casualties were heavy, but the invasion was a turning point in the Second World War and the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime.
Last Friday, French Ambassador Nicolas Chapuis paid a visit to Burnaby's George Derby Centre to award Champoux, and five other residents, medals for their service on Juno Beach.  
The men were Noel Gooding, Thomas Lecky, Garnet McDermid, Harry Porter, Edward Leask and Champoux.
"This ceremony is first a ceremony of memory, a duty to entertain the memory of those who shed blood on French soil during the war," Chapuis told the NOW. "It's part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, where Canada, but many other nations, joined in to free Europe from Nazis. The symbol for the years to come is to tell the young Canadians that the sacrifice and the bravery of their fathers or grandfathers is still inspiring the young generations."
As testament to that, J. P. Giroud, a prominent French geotechnical engineer, sent a letter to be read at the Burnaby ceremony.
"I was a little boy when you risked your life for me in France," Giroud wrote. "Thanks to you, I have grown up and studied in a free country."  
Gooding, who was about 20 during the invasion, told the NOW he felt good about receiving the medal.
"I can only remember some of the things that happened, not all of them. It was OK. I think I got lucky, that's all," he said.
The majority of George Derby Centre's 300 residents are veterans, and family members of the men attended Friday's ceremony.
Diana Davis travelled from Florida to see her father, Lecky, receive his medal.
"He's my hero, and he has been for generations," Davis said. "They're all our heroes."
France is awarding 600 D-Day veterans with medals, 66 of whom live in British Columbia.


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