The last thing Francis Goodon’s commanding officer told him before he stormed Juno Beach on June 6, 1944, was that he probably wasn’t ever going to see the rolling hills of Turtle Mountain ever again.
"I hope you all go home, but I thought I better let you know some of you aren’t going home," Goodon said his commanding officer told him and the rest of his B Company with the Winnipeg Rifles just moments before he jumped into the waters of the English Channel to charge the beach in the Normandy region of France.
Goodon, just 18 years old at the time, was one of the more than 160,000 Allied troops that landed in France to fight Hitler’s army as a part of Operation Overlord in the Second World War.
"We lost almost the whole company, only 27 of us made the beach," Goodon said, recalling seeing some of his closest friends fall in battle, before ever stepping foot on the beach. "It was your boys and it was your friends, but you couldn’t stop or you’d be a dead duck too."
The Canadian assault force suffered more than 1,000 casualties, of which 359 were fatal, on what has since become known as D-Day, according to Veterans Affairs Canada. Many believe the battle turned the tide of the war, as Allied forces secured the area that had been turned into a fortress for the German army.
"We made history there," Goodon said. "We fought all day and all night. And I was there to protect our country, our home, my mom and dad, brothers and sisters and all of our friends."
After weeks of battle, pushing hard inland while fighting German strongholds, Goodon said he and his company ran out of ammunition and were captured by German soldiers about 40 kilometres from the coast.
On July 1, 1944, a few days after being captured, Goodon said he and several other soldiers, who were now prisoners of war, were loaded into box cars.
"We spent 28 days in the box cars," Goodon said, believing that they were being transported around Europe in the hopes that Allied forces, who were bombing major trade routes at the time, would hit the train and kill their fellow soldiers.
It’s also where he came face-to-face with Kurt Meyer, an officer in the Waffen-SS and one of Hitler’s trusted soldiers. Goodon said he witnessed Meyer line up soldiers and shoot them before he was told by another officer that he had to stop. Following the war, Meyer was convicted of being responsible for his troops killing prisoners of war. He was sentenced to death, but following an appeal the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Meyer served less than 10 years in prison — five in Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick — before being released in 1954.
The soldiers who were killed by Meyer were done so to send a message, Goodon said.
"For anyone that would escape they would shoot 10 of the boys, so there was no use in trying to get away," Goodon said.
After nearly a month in the railcars, Goodon said they were taken to a concentration camp. There, he worked up to 16 hours a day in sugar beet and potato fields and witnessed some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.
"We were there with Jews and they were dying off. There was nothing to eat and they were dying off from sickness," Goodon said.
The smell of human flesh burning is something Goodon said will be etched in his mind forever.
"What a smell," Goodon said. "(German soldiers) had no feelings in the camp."
"People don’t believe that these things happened, but I was there and I know and I saw it," he said.
Nearly 11 months after being captured by German soldiers, Goodon was released on May 6, 1945. The 5-foot-8 soldier from Boissevain, who entered the war at 212 pounds, left camp almost 100 pounds lighter — a paltry 128 pounds.
A little more than a year after storming Juno Beach — during which time his family had been notified that he was missing in action, presumed dead, then ultimately told he was dead before he was located in a German camp — he stepped off a train in Deloraine. If not for his sister, who was steadfast in her belief that he was still alive, Goodon’s mother would have held a funeral service for him.
But the man who left Canada destined for war, the man that would have been remembered at his own funeral, wasn’t the same as the one who stood in Deloraine — disorientated and transformed.
"You’re an animal when you get back from going through all that hell over there," Goodon said. "When I came home, I made myself an alcoholic."
Goodon said he thought the booze would help him forget and cope with the war and for a while it did. But soon the booze only compounded the problem, and when the effects of the liquor ran thin, only more booze would fill the void.
"That never helped my life and people started calling me a drunk and that I was no good," Goodon said. "You figured it would help you forget and it did help you forget, but the next day you were back at it."
In 1967, more than 20 years after the war, Goodon gave up alcohol and tobacco, choosing to focus on raising his three children.
For years he said he’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Juno Beach sometimes hitting his wife who was sleeping beside him in his dreams.
Today, he still wakes in the middle of the night thinking about the beach, the war and the friends he lost in battle.
"You aren’t yourself after you see all that killing," Goodon said.
He’s not apologetic about the things he did and saw during the war, understanding that not fighting had far greater consequences.
"I’m not sorry, you know," he said. "That’s what I went for and we were well trained and someone had to do it."
"I volunteered. I wanted to get into it and get the war over. I wanted to get Hitler and we did it."
But he also remembers what his commanding officer told him before he hit the sand on Juno Beach — that there was a good chance he wasn’t coming home.
"When he said that, I told myself ‘I’m coming home,’" Goodon said.
On Nov. 11 — Remembrance Day — we remember all the soldiers who told themselves that, but never did.