Sun gets action: Veteran's wish granted
In this war of words, feelings were the only that got hurt.
The country was not as fortunate back in World War Two.
In the end, the Avon Maitland District School board caved to the pressure — long after there was time to save face but just in time to allow one of their teachers to travel with his 90-year-old Second World War veteran father to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.
Tank gunner Art Boon and his 57-year-old son Rick, should not have been pushed to the brink like that. It is good that it is over but what happened here should be addressed.
A lot of people were pushed to the limit and it was unnecessary.
“Oh well,” said Art Boon moments after hearing the board has reversed its stance and would allow his son to take leave so the he could get on the Friday flight to Europe. “Lots of baseball games are won in the ninth inning.”
This one was pulled out with two outs in the ninth inning and two strikes on the batter, too.
It seems there was a loophole found in the filing of the paperwork but no one is fully explaining it. The real reason is that the public wouldn’t accept it because it appeared to be mean spirited.
But the fighting is over.
“It wasn’t necessary,” said Art Boon of the controversy. “This should have been settled a long time ago.”
Instead, just six hours before they were set to motor the two-hour drive to Pearson International, word came of the dogged and determined board’s retreat.
“I am thrilled because I really am most comfortable with Rick with me,” said the veteran of both the battle for the Netherlands and the storming of Juno Beach on D-Day.
Art Boon teased it may have been just as hard to win this battle.
But then he gets serious. He knows they don’t compare.
“We lost 7,000 men that went and a lot more over the course of the whole war,” he said. “They all sacrificed so that any of us can have this life.”
One of the lost was almost Art Boon, himself.
A bullet killed a man named John Owen Gibbons that under regular circumstances could have hit Boon.
“He was older than me so it was rare for him to be out of the tank first or before me,” Boon recalled of the Owen Sound-area native. “I was usually the first one out.”
It was different on Feb. 8, 1945.
“For some reason, he was the first one out and as soon as he was he was hit,” said Boon. “He was hit with a sniper’s shot. He was essentially killed right there but he died two days later on Feb. 10. I was devastated. I was very close to him.”
When he and Rick get to Groesbeek Cemetery in the Netherlands, he will going to Grave XV. G. 14 where John is buried.
“I think about him all the time,” Boon said. “It should have been me. I have thought about that a lot over the years and it bothered me lot up until a few years ago when I realized it’s fate, I guess.”
There are many other soldiers, airmen and sailors with similar stories of sacrifice.
But for Boon to have to deal with this week’s red tape sideshow was unfair.
“I did find it stressful and I could have done without it,” said the veteran. “I hope it never happens again to another veteran.”
Durham MP and Veteran’s Affairs minister Erin O’Toole, himself a veteran who was an RCAF helicopter pilot, guaranteed that he will do everything he can to ensure that it doesn’t. He, as well as other cabinet ministers in the Harper government, were working behind the scenes to right the bureaucratic wrong that had transpired this week.
“I had spoken to Mr. Doherty earlier in the week and I had urged reconsideration and for everybody to not trip over the rules,” O’Toole said. “It came late but I am glad there is a way to make this happen and Art and his son Rick will be able to share this special liberation celebration with the Dutch people.”
O’Toole also telephoned Art Boon upon hearing the news.
“I have heard from so many people just how much you are respected and not just because you are a veteran but because you are a veteran who serves and helps other veterans,” said O’Toole.
Boon said veterans of all Canadian wars are just that. It doesn’t matter the time or the conflict. If you serve, you serve.
“I was over in a cemetery in France in 2010 when I met I got to talk for about 10 minutes with Prime Minister Harper and that is what we talked about,” said Boon. “He has so much respect for those who serve.”
Boon wanted O’Toole to pass along thanks to the prime minister in which he had a message.
But he be able to tell him face to face.
“I am going to arrange for some time for you to meet again,” said O’Toole. “I will see you and Rick in Holland in a day or so.”
It’s something that just didn’t look possible earlier Friday.
But the efforts of a lot of people, including singer Loreena McKennitt, an honorary colonel in the RCAF and a Stratford resident, paid off.
“I am deeply grateful that through the combined efforts of so many, including those within the Avon Maitland School Board, we are now able to enjoy the fruits of these efforts, in seeing Mr. Rick Boon accompany his father to the celebrations in the Netherlands,” McKennitt said. “I know I am not alone in being so touched by the many Canadians and people beyond, whom I’ve never met, and who have shown their unwavering support for the Boon family.”
She added she does “not wish to frame this journey we have taken together as one of winning or losing, but rather of being on a path of learning together. It has afforded us all the opportunity to be solders of democracy.”