Ronald Bath still has a couple weeks to go before turning 95 but he received a special early birthday present on Monday.
The former Royal Canadian Navy sailor was presented with the National Order of the Legion of Honour at his home in Greystone Manor.
The medal is France’s highest award, on par with the Order of Canada. Bath was presented with it for his service in aid of liberating France during World War II.
“I’m surprised,” the veteran said, shortly after being presented with the medal by Phillipe Sutter, French Consul General for Western Canada.
“It’s from so long ago,” he added.
On June 6, 1944, Bath was a signalman on a landing craft that ferried soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Division from England to the coasts of France during D-Day.
While the momentous day was almost 80 years ago, the citizens of France will not soon forget the great sacrifice of the many Canadian soldiers who took part.
“You and your landing craft landed soldiers onto Juno Beach at Bernièr-sur-Mer,” Sutter said before presenting the medal.
“And during the next couple weeks, you travelled back and forth across the English Channel to carry more men to Normandy.
“The French people will never forget the act of bravery that helped restore our freedom, so to you and your comrades, thank you so much for fighting on our side for freedom and democracy.”
Bath was only 19-years-old while braving the shells, mines, mortars and machine guns of the protected coast line.
As a young man, he tried to enlist in the Army early but his mother was a tad too wily for him and told the recruiters he was was not old enough to join.
After the third time trying, he became frustrated and joined the Navy.
D-Day was one of his first assignments.
After the invasion he acted as helmsman on a frigate involved in anti-submarine duty and serves on Canada’s first air craft carrier, The Warrior.
Post-war life, saw him move back to Fernie, B.C. where Bath worked in coal mines and delivered explosives.
He did not travel much, having seen much of the world as a sailor.
His son-in-law, Bob Harris, did manage to convince him to return to Europe for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.
The pair were joined by Bath’s grandson on a coach tour of Southern England and Normandy.
While in France they visited a small cemetery in Bernièr-Sur-Mer to pay respects to an old friend of Bath’s who was killed on D-Day.
“We will never forget your comrades in arms, killed in the flower of their youth as they threw themselves into the assault on the European continent to free on of the national founding people from the yoke of racism,” said Sutter.
“This sacrifice only further enriched the Franco-Canadian alliance that was forged in spilled blood.”