Seventy years ago, with a clear moral directive and great fortitude, ordinary men achieved the extraordinary and ended a war started by one of history's worst tyrants.
Let them and their sacrifices never be forgotten.
|He saved Europe before he saved the Enterprise.|
Gordon MacKay crouched on a battlefield in North Africa one night, cradling a fellow soldier in his arms.
His comrade, a 16-year-old with blonde hair, had been hit by German fire — a bullet in his shoulder and two more in his abdomen — and would not live to see the sun rise. As he watched this brief life ebb away, MacKay, just 23 or 24 at the time, knew that it was too late even to inject a morphine syrette for any relief. Instead, he offered what faint comfort he could, holding the youngster’s head and telling him that help was coming, that he’d been hit bad, but that he’d be alright.
He told the boy that his parents would know all about him, that MacKay would be around if he needed help. He told him he loved him.
And then the boy said “Good night, mom,” and died.
In the 70 years since that night, MacKay, 94, has been reluctant to talk about it. His first close encounter with wartime death, it churns up all kinds of distressing memories that he’d prefer were left undisturbed; he’d rather think about the many good times he had during his 28 years with the army. He doesn’t now recall the soldier’s name, or whether in fact he ever knew it. “When someone was killed, you didn’t want to know his name,” he says. “If I knew his name, I felt I’d have to find his parents. But there were already people who did that job. I knew what that was like, and I didn’t want to do it.”
Yet that night was an exceptional one for MacKay, who as a 16-year-old in peacetime had lied about his age to join the army, primarily because the country was waist-deep in a Depression and he needed work. The army offered food, clothing and shelter. It told him where to go and what to do and when, and it gave him a paycheque. “It was something to do,” he says. And two years later, in 1939, when Canada went to war, he was excited for the opportunity to do some actual soldiering.
But as his battlefield companion drew his last breath that night and others arrived to retrieve the body, MacKay underwent a transformation. He suddenly realized that war was useless, and he didn’t want to be there anymore. “It was bad,” he says. “He was even younger than me.”
But he also understood for the first time that it was vitally important that he and others like him were there, and that he must persevere. It ceased being simply a job; it was now a duty with a purpose.