Last spring a contingent of Sea Cadets from Drumheller joined in the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landing. Bailey Chung was one of the participants and she shared her experience with the Mail.
On June 5, 2019, we started the day by visiting the Canadian cemetery in Normandy, France. Once we got there the emotions started hitting everyone very quickly. Even if we didn’t have a family buried in that cemetery, we all knew at least one person in the graveyard; we all were given the name of a solider to research before we got there.
I was given a soldier by the name of Stephen Bolokoski. It was hard to find information on him and how he died. However, I did find he was one of four kids and the only sibling to fight in the war. I couldn’t find any living relatives sadly so I didn’t get a chance to lay anything on his grave from his family. I did, however, lay a poppy and a Canadian flag so he knew someone was thinking of him and was thankful for his sacrifice. I stood by his grave and took in the idea of someone so close to my age giving up his life to make sure I could live freely.
After I was done at my soldier’s grave I looked around at the other graves. Over half of them didn’t have anything on them, no poppy or flag, so I grabbed some of the extra poppies I was given and one of my fellow cadets and I went around laying poppies on all the graves that didn’t have anything. We couldn’t get to all the graves which made me slightly heartbroken thinking of all the undecorated graves; sadly, we were out of time and there wasn’t anything more I could have done.
After, we headed to Juno beach to see and explore what the soldiers saw 75 years ago. We explored the beach and walked the pathway they walked. As we walked along, we stopped and saw the Canadian house, the first house the Canadian overthrew and took from the Germans. It was a long walk going from one end of the beach to another but it was worth it. After that walk, we went to two more of the beaches that were overcome.
As we were at the Omaha beach gift shop, we met this amazing person named Jack, a US veteran of Omaha. He told us a story about his landing on the beach and the emotions and struggles he went through the days and weeks he was there. I never thought that running into someone in a gift shop could change the way I view everything. The day continued as we visited a German cemetery. They may have been our enemy at the time but now they are just like us; they were fighting for what they thought was right.
June 6, 2019, the day started early for us. We were unprepared for how hard the ceremony was going to hit everyone’s feelings. Being the first people there, we had an amazing view of the whole thing. There were five of the Drumheller cadets who participated in the ceremony and helped with the laying of boots and poppies.
We stood and watched the ceremony, as the few veterans were left walked or were rolled to their seats. A number of high officials, as well as many high-ranking officials from the military, air, and naval forces, were in attendance. As we watched the ceremony’s videos and listened to the stories they told, it felt as though we were there going through and seeing what they saw and the emotions they felt. Words cannot describe what we saw or felt that day but it was an amazing ceremony. I feel so blessed to be able to be there and see it all first hand.