D-Day: Langley veteran was part of WWII’s history battle

On June 6, 1944, Canada took part in the largest military operation in history.

(Langley Advance files) John Swityk at Remembrance Day services in 2015.

FROM THE LANGLEY ADVANCE NOV. 17, 2015

A seat was available for the Second World War veteran, but John Swityk chose to stand for much of Langley City’s Remembrance Day ceremonies Nov. 11 at Douglas Park.

The slight, soft-spoken Langley resident served with the Royal Regina Rifles regiment from 1940 to ’46, is a D-Day veteran, and back in February was awarded the French Legion of Honour Medal from Consul General of France Jean-Christophe Fleury during a ceremony at the Langley Legion.

Before last Wednesday’s ceremony got underway, Swityk told the Advance he’s faithfully attended Remembrance Day services since 1946.

“After I got out of the army, I never missed,” Swityk said. “Armistice Day, well I call it Armistice Day, but Remembrance Day, I never missed it one year yet – never. And I always lay a cross for my regiment.”

In July 1941, Swityk and his regiment went overseas to England. They were among the brave soldiers who waded through the Atlantic Ocean towards Juno Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“It was pretty bad,” Swityk recalled, of that fateful day. “The landing craft that our guns were on, it hit a mine right on the beach just about 20 yards away, and it blew the front doors right off and killed a couple of sailors, so we couldn’t get our guns off.”

Swityk and his comrades went overboard into the water and pushed ashore.

“Then we had to go and join B Company and go house to house,” Swityk said.

By day’s end, the Canadians on Juno Beach lost 340, saw 574 wounded, with 47 taken prisoner. But of all the divisions that landed on June 6, the Canadians had gained the most ground by sundown.

Swityk said he “remembers a lot of things that happened.”

“My sergeant got wounded, so I was made a sergeant right in the field and I went through the rest of the war with two anti-tank guns and 15 personnel,” Swityk explained. “I was in charge of the guns and after D-Day, the first day we were supposed to go 11 miles inland but we only made it halfway, and it got dark and we lost too many people.”

On particular day, Swityk said “a lot of officers got wounded or killed,” in his regiment, “so they decided to rendezvous for the night.”

He and his regiment, he explained, dug in and readied for what they thought would be an imminent German attack at sunrise.

“We thought they would be comin’ after us, but because they didn’t come so when the sun came up…, we just took off and went,” he said. “We didn’t encounter any Germans. We got there ahead of everybody else. We got too far in so we were all set up there, and we went house to house and we checked them out and there was some stuff on the stoves, but no people; everyone was gone.”

After the war, Swityk remained in Holland and England before being discharged and returning to Vancouver.

Three days after he arrived, found work at the Vancouver Province newspaper’s printing press, in the composing room.

“I went to work right away,” Swityk said. “After I got to Vancouver, three days later I was working.”

Swityk and his wife of 67 years Helen have two sons and a daughter, as well as two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

He and Helen bought their first house in Vancouver on Nanaimo Street in 1950 and have lived in Langley for the past 21 years.

He remained with the Royal Canadian Air Force until 1967 and in civilian life worked for Lafarge Cement as a maintenance inspector.

– files from the Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force

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