Lives Lived - George Terry D Day Veteran
It has been 75 years since the greatest naval landing ever happened as so long ago young men stormed the beaches of Normandy. In what was called The Longest Day young men rushed the beaches to open up a second front and hasten the end of the Third Reich.
It was a day which despite its success could well have gone terribly wrong and Hitler’s Atlantic Wall may have repelled the Allied Forces. An invasion which if it had failed could have changed the face of Europe in the post war years as the Allies would have taken at least another year to mount another attempt.
Perhaps some would have done what Churchill had earlier indicated and open up the second front with a massive move into Italy and invade Austria and Germany from the south thereby cutting off the Soviet Union in Central Europe. Something Stalin never wanted.
But this column is not about the politics which sent many young men off to distant shores but it is the stories one man told me about being there on that day.
It is the stories of the late George Terry who in the second wave as a member of the Regina Rifles stormed the beaches of Normandy.
George, who was First Nations, did not by treaty have to go to war but as a young man he had volunteered to join the fight.
I remember George telling me about that day as I asked him how did he survive.
Being of small stature George told me with a laugh he was so small he just had to crouch low and no German could shoot him.
It took time over the years I knew George until he told me about that day and as a medic he had helped saved lives. The cries of men with pain and belly wounds as George would risk his life crawling and running while the men he trained with called his name “George help me.”
These were things he preferred not to speak about. The cries of death from men. For George the army was something quite different.
I remember George telling me about growing up on the reservation and how as a boy to pass the time he with his friends would look at the clouds and the shapes they formed.
The coming of war offered George something he never had on the reserve and that was the opportunity to go off and see the world. Freedom to leave the reservation and see the world.
It led George to those beaches of Normandy that June day in 1944. It led to Germany, it led to a whole world an “Indian” (as they were called back then) could go to with no problems.
For George the military was the great equalizer and on June 6, 1944 on a French beach he would risk his life to save others.
After the war George would come home and like all First Nations people it was back to the reserve.
But George would have none of it and he would return to the military to the life he loved. He would serve in Korea where he told me the battles were bitter.
George would tell me the military was good for him. It gave him opportunity and a good job. A way to raise a family.
George would tell me that although there was some racism in the military it was just the occasional idiot but the majority of people were good people and everyone was equal.
At the end of his military career George would be the most decorated First Nation person in Saskatchewan.
When I first met George in the mid 1980's he was retired and heavily involved in agencies in the city.
He was in the Royal Canadian Legion Moose Jaw branch where he worked to assist veterans in need in the seemingly continual fight for his comrades and their veteran's benefits.
George was also involved with a group called Senior Citizens Action Now who were dedicated to fighting to improve the living conditions of senior citizens in Moose Jaw.
He sat on committees and he sat on boards making Moose Jaw a better place no matter the colour of your skin.
I personally have seen many seniors come to George and say “George can you help me?” To which he always tried his best to lend a hand. The cry from D Day and his devotion to service was still there 45 years after George ran out of that landing craft and onto the beach.
One time to help out Moose Jaw Tourism he dressed up as Sitting Bull complete with a headdress and tomahawk. I remember interviewing George and he told me it was “an honour” to be dressed up as a such a great man.
George was also well known for one thing in the community at that was being fair. If a First Nations person and a white person had a dispute George would look at it and side with whomever was right. He would work to resolve the dispute. Colour made no difference it was looking at the issue colour blind.
George went on to become Moose Jaw’s Citizen of the Year.
My uncle – who served in the Winnipeg Rifles – had plenty of respect for George.
“He bled red like the rest of us and he didn’t have to go. He paid his dues,” my uncle told me.
On the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago as George not only fought for the freedom we enjoy today he also won his freedom and more respect than most men out there.
For his military service and his later civilian life of helping others George would receive the Order of Canada.
George Roderick Terry passed away on February 8, 2009. He is buried in the Field of Honour along with his military comrades in Moose Jaw’s cemetery.