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Newmarket-area veteran's D-Day story shared by prime minister

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau featured Second World War veteran Jim Parks on his social media after speaking with him at the 80th anniversary ceremonies at Juno Beach

NEWMARKET - Second World War veteran and Newmarket-area resident Jim Parks had a chance encounter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while attending the ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Juno Beach.

The 99-year-old Parks joined the Canadian contingent of Second World War veterans who travelled to the Normandy beach where on June 6, exactly 80 years ago, he had stood as a teenager fighting against Nazi German forces.

Trudeau had stopped to speak with Parks, who shared his memories of that historic battle, which was captured on video and later shared on the prime minister's X account.

“He’s like you and I, but he is in a position of responsibility,” Parks told NewmarketToday, after returning from the trip. “You have to recognize that. I always make sure to call him sir because his position requires that you refer to him as sir.”

Parks, who lives in Mount Albert, enlisted with the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 16 with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. He was sent to England in 1941 before he was sent to join the troops storming Juno Beach in 1944.

“At the time we went to the beach, all hell was breaking loose,” said Parks.

Parks told Trudeau about his experience during the war, and they thanked each other for their service to our country.

“I told him to keep up the good work,” said Parks. “We had a little talk, and I told him, ‘You’re right here in Juno Beach where I landed on D-Day.' I explained what I was involved with. He asked a few questions. We had a good conversation.”

To win the war, the Allied High Command decided that the coast of Normandy would be the target of the amphibious assault on the continent. Canadian infantry and armoured troops were assigned a landing zone at Juno Beach. About 359 Canadians lost their lives that day.

“He lost his equipment when he went to Juno Beach,” said Richard Furlong, marketing director of Newmarket PROBUS club, of which Parks is member. “A soldier ahead of him lost his life. He picked up (that soldier's) equipment and moved on.”

Canadian troops progressed further inland. Parks helped liberate France from Nazi Germany and was involved in the Battle of Putot and the Battle of Carpiquet.

“Eighty years ago, more than 14,000 Canadians landed at Juno Beach, among the roughly 150,000 Allied forces who came ashore in Normandy,” said Trudeau at the event. “These soldiers had friends and family. They had lives and jobs before the war started. On the battlefield, Francophones, Anglophones, Indigenous peoples, and new Canadians came together as one.”

Parks was injured in Delfzijl, Netherlands while serving. He was blown through a window under shell fire and woke up in a military hospital with shrapnel in his arm and legs. The shrapnel in his leg is still there, as it’s too close to a main artery to be removed.

“Cheering for the Blue Jays or Toronto Maple Leafs, you take that for granted, but it’s so nice to be free and do what you want to do,” said Parks. “That’s what you have to hold on to because people around the world want to take away your borders, take away your freedom, but hang on to it. If you ever get threatened again, answer the call.”

Parks has returned to Juno Beach numerous times. He helped raise funds for the Juno Beach Centre, a Second World War museum and cultural centre in Normandy, France. He had a goal of raising one dollar for each of the 18,700 soldiers killed in Normandy and raised more than $20,000.

After the war, Parks spent time with a Winnipeg fire department, at government jobs in Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Manpower and Unemployment. He and his wife then moved to Waterloo, where he retired, before moving to Mount Albert, where his daughter also lives.

— With files from Joseph Quigley