D-Day vet nominated for Croix de Guerre

John Brannen
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WESTVILLE – For Roy Rushton, 95, getting laid off from the Trenton rail car plant on Sept. 6, 1939, was a blessing in disguise.

It was his big break, his chance for adventure.

“I was 21 and a guy I worked with was in the army and he signed me up,” said Rushton.

Four days later, Canada would declare war on Nazi Germany and join the most destructive conflict in human history. Rushton would participate in one of its crucial battles: D-Day.

It’s his participation in D-Day that has earned him a nod from a veteran’s supporter and Korean War veteran, Vincent Courtenay. Rushton received notice that he’d been nominated to receive the prestigious French Croix de Guerre.

The medal is awarded to “military personnel only who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces.”

Rushton was a part of an elite group known as paratroopers. He began his training in Quebec with 52 fellow enlisted men. By the end of the training process, there were only 11.

“It was as much a mental test as physical and we met with a psychiatrist too,” Rushton noted. “He’d always ask, ‘Let’s see your hands,’ and he’d check to see if we were sweating or nervous. That was a bad sign if you were scared then.”

It started with simple rolls and falls but then his training advanced to a daunting 200 foot high tower, which humbled many soldiers. Finally, his training prepared him for his first test jump.

“I just wanted to do it,” Rushton said enthusiastically. “We had four more jumps after that and then we received our wings and tall brown ‘jump’ boots.”

Serving under Maj. Murray MacLeod of New Glasgow in the 3rd Parachute Brigade of the British Airborne Division, he made his way to England where training continued. He remembers a special visit from a symbol of British strength and resolve in May 1943.

“King George and the queen came to visit and inspect us,” recalled Rushton. “And Princess Elizabeth was there too wearing all black, not saying too much and just following her parents.”

The princess would later become Queen in 1952.

On D-Day, his company was tasked with parachuting in advance of the amphibious landings along the beaches of Normandy. Despite precise planning, his company was scattered around the landing points.

“The plane was forced into evasive actions and we jumped early. You never know what’s going to happen up there.”

His company achieved their goal of destroying bridges to halt German reinforcements heading to stop the Allied invasion.

After regrouping in England he was sent to support American troops beat back by the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge in Ardennes. It was here he was wounded.

“We had just landed and I was shot in the leg,” Rushton said pointing to his left leg. “The bullet is still there.”

He was sent to a hospital in Scotland and was in England when he heard the joyous news on May 8.

“I was getting into a cab and the driver told me the war was over. I’ll never forget that.”

After coming back to Pictou County, Rushton operated a convenience store in Salt Springs. It didn’t last long and he had to hand the keys to the store to his mother.

It was 1950 and war had broke out in Korea. He didn’t hesitate to re-enlist.

“For some it was about patriotism, you know King and Country,” Rushton said. “Why the hell would I join the army again? It was adventure.”

After the Korean War, he remained in the reserves as a warrant officer and instructor. His love of adventure and travel led him to organize tours of the Normandy cemetery for families who have loved ones buried there.

If all goes to plan, he believes that, upon approval, he’ll receive the Croix de Guerre around the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Looking back on his participation in two wars, he has no regrets.

“I was so fulfilled in those times,” he said. “Those times were the highlights of my life. I’m 95 years old now and quite content.”

 

john.brannen@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

Geographic location: England, Canada, Nazi Germany Quebec Normandy New Glasgow Ardennes Scotland Pictou County Salt Springs Korea

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  • Proud to call you a friend
    December 12, 2013 - 07:40

    An incredible life for an incredible hero.