In the run up to Veterans Day, an internet post was circulating a photo of a young soldier captioned, “1944: 18-year-olds stormed the beach at Normandy into almost certain death.” To the right was a photo of a cowering civilian youth with the caption, “2018: 18-year-olds need a safe place because words hurt their feelings.” Both statements are true but one photo posed a problem.
As revealed by the uniform and PPSh-41 submachine gun, the young man on the left was a Soviet soldier, and the Red Army played no role in the D-Day landings of June,1944. Still, the young Red Army soldier may have taken part in an invasion or two.
In August of 1939, Soviet Communist dictator Josef Stalin signed a pact with Adolf Hitler’s German National Socialist Regime. The following month, both totalitarian states invaded Poland, effectively starting World War II, but Stalin wasn’t done. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Red Army launched an invasion of Finland with half a million troops. The outnumbered Finns fought bravely and turned away Stalin’s forces. Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä was credited with more than 500 kills.
Despite the loss, the USSR and Nazi Germany fought as allies, and Stalin supported Hitler’s invasion and occupation of France and virtually all of western Europe. That alliance continued until Hitler attacked his former ally in June, 1941. That December, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the war, but at that point victory was not a done deal.
On June 6, 1944, in the largest invasion in history, British, Canadian, American, Polish and Australian troops stormed the beaches at Normandy. Many of those brave young soldiers met their end that day, but the Allies went on to take down the National Socialist regime and liberate western Europe, saving countless lives.
In April of 1945, for example, troops from Canada’s Eighth Reconnaissance unit liberated 876 Dutch Jews from the Westerbork camp in Holland, where they awaited shipment to Auschwitz and other death camps.
Had the Allies failed, the world would be a very different place today. That was recently recognized by, among others, Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry.
“You people,” Cherry said on a recent broadcast, talking about recent immigrants he regarded as ungrateful, “you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.” That drew comments like “despicable,” “discriminatory” and so forth, with the Canadian establishment showing no apparent concern for the right of Don Cherry, 85, to speak his mind.
One of “those guys” was this writer’s uncle, James Billingsley, of the Eighth Reconnaissance. He was wounded twice in action, once by a Nazi sniper, and after a stint in hospital promptly returned to his unit and kept up the fight. He still had shrapnel in his body when he passed away at 94 in 2017.
What Jim and other veterans used to say about the gutless “Zombies” like Pierre Trudeau, who failed to serve, makes Cherry’s comments look mild. The notion of Soviet soldiers storming the Normandy beaches would have drawn a comment that included the word “bullshit” with a few modifiers for good measure. As Jim knew, the Canadian establishment is another source of ignorance about “those guys” and the war they fought.
Back in 2002, Defense Minister John McCallum managed to confuse Vichy, seat of the French government of Nazi collaborators, with Vimy, the World War I battle of Vimy Ridge. The current establishment under the Zombie’s son Justin Trudeau knows even less, and the last Canadian Prime Minister with actual combat experience was Lester Pearson, who left office in 1968.
If people on the left know about the Stalin-Hitler Pact and the Soviet invasions of Poland and Finland, they are never eager to talk about it. For this crowd, as George Orwell noted, ignorance is strength. Like the cowering 18-year-old in the photo, words hurt their feelings, particularly when those words are the truth.
“Those guys” did pay the biggest price, as Don Cherry said. As the national anthem explains, they stood on guard for thee, and their victory was one of those plus brillants exploits. The current establishment is not worthy to carry their shoes, and those guys deserve respect, particularly from new arrivals. But no surprise that on Monday, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States, Canada’s Sportsnet fired Don Cherry, a former coach of the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
Meanwhile, after winning World II, “those guys” from the USA and Canada went home and got on with their lives. The Soviet Red Army, on the other hand, occupied Eastern Europe and crushed the people under loathsome Communist regimes for more than 50 years.
The young Soviet soldier with the PPSh-41 submachinegun may have participated in the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, but one thing is certain. He and his comrades did not storm the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944.