96-year-old veteran goes on symbolic walk to honour his fallen comrades
TORONTO -- Jim Parks was 19-years-old when he dove into the waters of Juno Beach during D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy, France that turned the tide of WWII.
76 years later, on a day punctuated by heavy rain, thunder and lightning throughout greater Toronto, the decorated veteran took a symbolic walk in remembrance of his fallen comrades, including one man who died in his arms on that fateful day in 1944.
“This walk creates all kinds of memories, it’s very vivid,” Parks told CTV News Toronto. “The idea is to raise funds for the Juno Beach Centre. Because of the pandemic there’s no tourism.”
The centre is a memorial to the 45,000 Canadians who died during the war.
“It’s very important for people to know what they have here wasn’t for free. A lot of lives were given.”
At least 14,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944.
359 died in the fighting on that day alone, Parks nearly among them.
“The armoured bulldozers ahead of us were supposed to pull the obstacles out of the water so the infantrymen wouldn’t have anything to bother them. But the landing craft hit a mine. We knew we were going to sink so we loosened our equipment and swam to shore. On the way in I was side-swiped by another landing craft and cut my leg. By the time I got to shore I’d pulled a couple men out of the water.”
The week of fighting that followed is the stuff nightmares are made of.
“The first night in we only had 100 rounds of ammunition so we’d only fire a few rounds here or there because we wanted to preserve it, in case of a counter attack. They gave us a loaf of bread to last a week. I asked how we could keep bread for seven days, they told us there was formaldehyde in it.”
The irony? Parks shouldn’t even have been there.
“When I enrolled I added a few years to my age. I told them I was 18, I was really only 15. I got my start with the Winnipeg rifles. They were known then as the little black devils. So I guess I’ve been a little devil ever since.”
Moniker aside, Parks is now asking people to commit good deeds to support the memory of the men and women who served alongside him.
He wants people to participate in virtual walks or runs to raise money for Juno Beach Centre. If you spend any time in his hometown of Mount Albert, Ont. you’re likely to see him out and about, trying to ward off the reaper as he often jokes.
“My health today is pretty good. I gave up eating corned beef, I only have good food now. I walk a lot, do a lot of swimming. I go to a health club three times a week. I like to keep my parts moving. If you don’t move the parts everything stiffens up.”
More information on the charity walks is available here.