Herbert McGee is wearing his new medal on the right side of his coat along with his previous medals on the left. He demonstrates his love for Diesel the dog saying, “the one that keeps me alive every morning.”Photo: Rhythm Rathi/Telegraph Journal

Original Published on Oct 18, 2022 at 15:58

By Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Second World War veteran Herbert McGee of Saint Andrews has recently been awarded the highest national honour of France, in recognition of his services during the war.

McGee, 97, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 18, was a tail gunner in several missions over France and Germany during the Second World War, he said. He went on several missions dropping bombs over German and French soil including some “diversionary raids.” He was a part of the service for more than two years and retired as a Flying Officer.

“I always wanted to be a fighter pilot,” said McGee.

Guy Black – a volunteer advocate for veterans – said he was surprised to find McGee to be so active at his age. They both connected over email and also have had conversations over the phone. Black said he works for veterans as a hobby and decided to fill out the nomination form on his behalf for the “National Order of the Legion of France,” which later got approval for the medal.

“He is an amazing and exceptional person who has brought great credit to his hometown, province and Canada. The medal is an official medal, and it is recognized by the Government of Canada. It is equal to our Order of Canada,” wrote Black in an email to Telegraph-Journal.

Some details that Black mentioned in the nomination form were that McGee served from “1943 to Nov.11th, 1945 in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Completed missions over France and Germany. Includes bombing raids over France from Aug.10th-End of Sept 1944.”

“He was not physically wounded but after the war, he was unable to sleep in the same room as his wife, I forget for how long, but might have been 50 years – PTSD,” he added in the nomination.

McGee said he still remembers scenes from the war and does not feel comfortable talking about it in detail. However, he said, the medal made him feel happy, recognized and included. He said during the war he was “always a spare” and that did not allow him to make close bonds with anyone.

The flights were always in a crew of seven, who did different tasks, he said noting tail gunners had a very short life expectancy. He said upon asking to join a crew permanently he was denied saying it was “bad for their morale,” as the crew often lost tail gunners on their missions.

Crews went to pubs together and had close bonds, but McGee was with a new pilot and crew on every mission, he added.

“I always wanted someone to have my back,” but was always alone, he said pointing toward different names in his daily log book.

The medal closed the doors to a very unhappy period of his life, he said.

“I felt that I never had anybody have my back, but this is…. It gives me a real nice feeling of closure,” he said referring to his latest honour. He said he also felt happy when he received a letter and certificate from Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s minister of veterans affairs, in 2021 recognizing his contributions stating, “we are honoured to count you as part of our crew.”

After seeing rough times throughout his journey, McGee decided to move back to Saint Andrews with his daughter, son-in-law and their dog, Diesel.

“This is the one that keeps me alive every morning,” he said, tossing Diesel a toy to fetch.

McGee still has a driving license and also rides his scooter around town and to the post office, said his daughter, Beverley Mayer. She said he gave her a call around two years ago from Peterborough, Ont., when she and he husband lived in Oshawa, talking about his plans to move back to Saint Andrews.

“I said jokingly ‘Maybe we should go with you,” not thinking it to be a good idea for a 95-year-old to do on his own.

To Mayer’s surprise, McGee started showing her houses the next day and the family finally moved together, she said, adding the house they moved into was, to their surprise, his aunt’s house that McGee had earlier lived in.

Apart from having a driver’s license, McGee prepares his own breakfast and lunch, is an avid reader, has deep interests in politics and political unrest, can walk a block, “watches a lot of Netflix,” writes emails and letters as long as 10 pages, prepares his household budgets and spreadsheets and is a “duplicate bridge player with masters points,” she said.

“I have vodka and tonic on happy hours,” McGee said, adding “also sometimes wine with them.”

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated