Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau was a 19-year-old soldier in
the Canadian Army when he parachuted into France on D-Day. After securing a bridge, Trudeau and several members of his company were cut off from the rest of the Allied troops and captured by the Germans.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Sixty years ago today, a 19-year-old Canadian paratrooper gazed out of the open door of a British military airplane flying 400 feet over the English Channel in fear and wonder.
"Planes were flying so close together, I felt like I could step out of the door of my plane onto the wing of another plane," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said, remembering his part in the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
"There were so many boats, I thought if I jumped out of the plane I would probably land in one of them."
Eager to fight the Axis powers of World War II, the headstrong teen lied about his age and joined the Canadian Army in 1942 at 17. After parachuting school, he was attached to the British 6th Airborne Division, where he continued training for that historic day on June 6, 1944.
Five days after his 19th birthday, at about midnight, the private jumped into a curtain of black, occasionally pin-holed by gunfire over a small town in France.
"When we reached the French coast - we were flying over Juno beach - I stuck my left leg out of the plane, counted to five and jumped into the air," recalled Trudeau, now 79.
"I remember seeing guys on the left side of me getting shot at and thinking I was glad I was over here. "They were probably thinking the same thing about me."
Trudeau was one of 150,000 Canadian, British and U.S. troops facing off against Nazis that day.
In many ways, Trudeau said he was thankful he broached enemy lines by air.
"I can't imagine what is was like for those guys that had to come up on the beach," he said. "They were like ducks in a shooting gallery."
Once Trudeau's feet hit terra firma, his mission was to secure bridges and disrupt the enemy's lines of communication.
He fell into enemy hands while destroying one of the bridges.
"Me and some other guys went across a bridge to secure that side while some engineers set explosives," he said. "But they blew up the bridge early, and we were trapped on the enemy side of it.
"Some guys tried to cross back over to the other side, but they got fired upon by our own troops, who thought they might be Germans. We decided to wait until it was light, so we could see better. By the time it was daylight, a German patrol came over a ridge and they had us."
He spent the next 13 months living in squalor and working in a coal mine in Halle, Germany as a Nazi prisoner of war.
"All we had to eat was a soup of potato peelings and cabbage," he said. "Sometimes we would get some horse meat and a loaf of bread to split between five guys.
"When I jumped out of that airplane I weighed 124 pounds. When we were rescued I weighed 84 pounds."
At the time, Trudeau gave little thought to the role he was playing in history. He was too busy asking God for deliverance.
"There were some guys in the plane making jokes, but I don't remember laughing," he said. "I was praying."
Today, after 60 years of hindsight, the mayor and retired U.S. Army master sergeant plans to quietly celebrate the Allied victory with his family.
"I'm very grateful I lived through that experience," he said. "The good Lord must have had an angel beside me."
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