Author Topic: Another Quiet Hero  (Read 3639 times)

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Offline BernDawg

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Another Quiet Hero
« on: June 06, 2008, 16:59:31 »
To find this article on today of all days.  God Speed Sir.  :salute:

F.F. LANGAN   Special to The Globe and Mail Don Doner's war lasted just one day - D-Day, June 6, 1944.

  The night before, he boarded a ship in Southampton on the southern coast of England. It was pitch dark, but he and the rest of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada had practised the drill so many times they didn't need any light.

They had been in the port since June 4, waiting for the signal for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. They knew the real thing was coming when breakfast arrived. "The last meal, so to speak, of the condemned," he said in a memoir written in 1982. "It was bacon and eggs - something unheard of in the army."   A storm had just passed through the area, leaving behind rough seas. Just off the French coast, he and the other men from 8 Section of 9 Platoon, "A" Company of the Queen's Own, left the mother ship, transferred to assault craft A9 and headed toward the beach at Bernieres-sur-mer.

It was their bad luck to be among the first to land in Normandy on D-Day, and worse for Mr. Doner. He was second in line to enter the water, right behind his pal Corporal Hugh Rocks.

  "We were elected to be the assault section for the platoon, which meant that we would be first to leap off the assault craft, carry bangalores [long, cylindrical mines], steel ladders, wire mesh and any other material that would assist us in scaling the sea wall and blowing holes in the barbed wire," wrote Mr. Doner.

  Don Doner was no gung-ho, Royal Canadian Legion cliche of a soldier.

He was just a kid who joined the army at 19 and soon grew cynical about the military and the war. He often went AWOL, mostly to visit girlfriends. A good-looking young man, he found falling in love rather easy. One time, he got cold feet and backed out of an engagement to a young British woman, although he did leave the material for the wedding dress - he'd had it sent from Canada - at her front door.

  Riding toward the beach that morning he felt frightened, and believed most of the young men on the landing craft were no braver. "Just a bunch of ordinary guys thrown together by fate, not mad at anybody, not wanting to die or be maimed or blinded, just wanting to live and let live," he wrote. "Had 90 per cent of us known then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a war because none of us would have been there to fight it."   They may have been scared, but it didn't stop them fighting. As their boat approached the beach, a shell destroyed another landing craft that had been advancing alongside. Their own landing craft stopped in deep water, unable to go closer. Cpl. Rocks, who was 5 feet 5 inches and a non-swimmer, asked Mr. Doner to go first.

Standing 6 feet 2 inches, Mr. Doner stepped off the boat and found the water up to his chin. Cpl. Rocks gamely followed. Burdened by a full battle kit, ammunition and a rifle, he sank to the bottom.

Mr. Doner grasped his friend's hands underwater and led him part way to the beach.

  Meanwhile, enemy machine-gun bullets flew thick and fast, and artillery and mortar shells exploded all around. Wounded or killed outright, many of the Queen's Own never cleared the surf.

  The soldiers had orders that if a man was hit they were to leave him until the beach was secure. Mr. Doner saw one of his friends in the water with massive wounds. He ignored his call for help, in part because it was obvious he was close to death. In the confusion, Mr. Doner lost sight of Cpl. Rocks. A short while later, he went back to look for him. He found him dead, shot between the eyes.

  Cpl. Rocks, a hard-rock miner from Kirkland Lake, Ont., was 40.

Probably the oldest man from the unit to be killed on the beach that day, he had lied about his age to get into the war. As a married man in what was considered a vital industry, it is unlikely he would have been conscripted.

  By that time, Mr. Doner had also been wounded. As implausible as it seems, his life was saved by mail from home. A bullet aimed straight at his chest hit the corner of an envelope containing a thick letter from his sister. He had put the letter in his breast pocket, and its many folds absorbed most of the impact. The bullet deflected off a rib and ended up in his arm. He was also struck many times over by bits of shrapnel that entered other parts of his body and would, years later, set off metal detectors at airports.

  The key to survival was to get out of the line of fire. All around him, soldiers furiously dug down into the sand. "Steve de Blois and I set a world record for digging a slit trench, wounded or not," he wrote.

  The Queen's Own Rifles had landed near Bernieres-sur-mer just after 8 a.m. The rough seas meant the tanks were late coming ashore, and the infantry landed without their support. To make matters worse, the assault craft had taken them several hundred metres away from their planned objective and set them down right in front of a strong German position that included a powerful 88-mm gun.

  "They received the worst battering of any Canadian unit on D-Day crossing the beaches," said Steve Harris, director of history at the Department of National Defence, whose father, Lieutenant J.P.

Harris, was wounded while landing with the same regiment. In all, 60 men of Queen's Own were killed and another 78 were wounded, the worst casualty figures of any Canadian unit on D-Day.

  In spite of the strength of the German positions, the regiment more than met their objectives. "So fast did the Queen's Own move against this and other positions that when the Regiment de la Chaudiere began to land behind them 15 minutes later, the only fire on the beach was coming from snipers," wrote war correspondent Chester Wilmot in his book, The Struggle for Europe .

  Medics treated Mr. Doner's wounds on the beach and he was given the job of guarding some German prisoners. Some of them spoke English and they engaged him in conversation while all around the battle raged. "I talked with a German prisoner of war who wondered, much as I did, why he was there and blamed it all on the big wheels far removed from the battle area."   Mr. Doner was shipped back to England that day. A week later, he was sent home to Canada. His one-day war was over.

  Don Doner was born in a Prairie village about 100 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon, but grew up in Toronto. His mother had died giving birth to him, and soon after that the family moved east to Ontario, where his father remarried. In Toronto, he attended Northern Secondary School on Mount Pleasant Road. He spent summers at his uncle's farm near Stayner, about 70 kilometres north of the city.

  He enlisted in the army in September, 1941, and trained at Camp Borden in Ontario before being shipped to England. Like many young soldiers, he was not used to strong drink and freedom, and he got into a lot of trouble. He was disciplined several times for returning late to barracks, often after spending the evening at pubs and dances.

  After the war, he worked for a time at European Silk in Toronto.

By 1950, he and his brother Bob had retreated to the peace and quiet of small-town life in Alliston, Ont. Together, they set up an insurance brokerage called Doner Brothers. They got married and bought houses next door to each other. Don and his wife, Josephine, had six daughters; Bob and his wife, Maxine, had six sons.

  Today, Alliston is the site of a busy Honda factory, and has grown enormously, but back then it was a typical, small Ontario community.

"Alliston was like Mayberry. It had one stop light and my father's office was a drop-in spot for every character in town," said his daughter, Joanna Dahlin. "Once a month, they ran a poker game in the basement."   Late in life, Mr. Doner was contacted by George Rocks, son of Corporal Hugh Rocks, the man he had tried to save on D-Day. George Rocks was 6 when his father died.

  "An uncle of mine read Don Doner's name in a book on D-Day and I contacted him. Speaking to Don brought everything to a close for me, to learn just how my father died," said Mr. Rocks. "No one in my family ever spoke much about the war. There was no celebration in our house when the war ended. I was 30 before I learned my father died on D-Day."   For his part, Mr. Doner's views of the war and his role in it changed little over the years. While he felt the conflict had a purpose, he believed senior officers did not really know what they were expecting of Canada's young men. For many years, he refused to discuss the whole rotten business, and it was not until he was in his sixties that he began to talk about his experiences.

  DON DONER   Donald Grieve Doner was born in Simpson, Sask., on July 23, 1922.

He died at Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital in Toronto, of complications from Parkinson's disease, on May 3, 2008. He was 85. He is survived by his wife, Josephine (Josie), and his daughters Joanna, Christine, Mary, Helen, Martha and Jennifer. He also leaves his half-sisters Marilyn, Kay, Nan and Dorothy. His brother Bob died in January, 1987.

"We can't all be heroes... because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."  Will Rogers
Someone has to be last.  At least if it's me I know where all the assholes are.

Offline wildman0101

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2008, 20:45:44 »
thank-you don donor for your service to canada  :cdn:
you will not be forgotten  :salute:
rest in peace sir
youve gone through hell and now your with god
youve walked the walk... you talked the talk..
you have my undiieing gratitude..
for carrying the torch....
                         scoty b
scoty b (aka the brat)
so my sister say's
she would know as she
pointed out ,,,, quote
my lil brother is one bad "mo-fo"
dont f*** with him you'll just get hurt.

Offline FoverF

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2008, 21:32:26 »
Plan B is just to keep on givin' er

Offline RandomAVS

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2008, 22:32:28 »
Alot of the forgotten heroes are passing away. I wish that there was a bit more than Remembrance Day to celebrate what they've done for us and the world, and for freedom.

 :cdn:   :salute:

Offline Roy Harding

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2008, 23:29:54 »
Alot of the forgotten heroes are passing away. I wish that there was a bit more than Remembrance Day to celebrate what they've done for us and the world, and for freedom.

 :cdn:   :salute:

There is.  Enjoy the world they left to us, and exercise the freedoms they saved for us.  It's really that simple.
I love mankind.  It's people I can't stand.

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Offline lone bugler

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2008, 00:06:40 »
Without people like don donor, who knows if parliament hill would even be flying the Canadian flag today. And of course the most quiet and heroic people are people like Cpl. Rocks who's war did not even last a full day. RIP :salute:   
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Offline xo31@711ret

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2008, 00:14:18 »
 :salute: :cdn: :salute:

Offline RandomAVS

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Re: Another Quiet Hero
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2008, 11:19:05 »
What I meant Roy is that there are people like us who are always aware of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women before us, then there's the people who aren't aware or who haven't been educated.

The current educational system should have a larger portion of their Social Studies / History dedicated to them, when I worked in the schools about 4years ago it was almost a taboo to speak of war. Such a shame.

 :cdn:  :salute: