June 23rd, 2024

D-Day veteran from Abbotsford, B.C., receives France’s highest honour

By Nono Shen, The Canadian Press on June 6, 2024.

Joseph Vogelgesang poses in this 1944 family handout photo when he was 19-years-old. A statement from the Consulate General of France in Vancouver says Vogelgesang will be decorated as a Knight of the Legion of Honour to acknowledge his contribution and bravery in the liberation of France. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vogelgesang Family

VANCOUVER – A British Columbia Second World War veteran who landed at Normandy on D-Day 80 years ago has been presented with France’s highest decoration at a ceremony in Vancouver.

Joseph Vogelgesang, who is 99 years old, went to France along with 14,000 other Canadians, in what would be the start of the liberation of Western Europe.

The Consulate General of France in Vancouver says Vogelgesang has been decorated as a Knight of the Legion of Honour to acknowledge his contribution and bravery in the liberation of France.

Consul General Nicolas Baudouin says the medal shows “profound gratitude” for Vogelgesang’s service during the war, including his contributions on D-Day when he was 19 years old.

Vogelgesang, who now lives in Abbotsford, B.C., volunteered in his home province of Saskatchewan at the age of 17 and left for England in early 1944 as part of the Calgary Highlanders.

His youngest daughter, Sharon Bunn, says their family was “bursting with pride and gratitude” upon hearing news of the French honour.

“We know that he went to the war at a very young age and nowadays, I can’t imagine how a 17- or 18-year-old would get through what he got through,” said Bunn, who flew from Saskatchewan to Vancouver to join Thursday’s ceremony.

“All of us are very, very proud and really grateful for what he did and the sacrifices he made,” she added.

Although Vogelgesang has been a hero in both Canada and France, Bunn said her father hesitated to share what he went through in the war.

“I think that as you can imagine, it was difficult. He shared little, tiny bits, but nothing really graphic,” said Bunn.

She said Vogelgesang, who lives in his own apartment in the Fraser Valley city, is staying up-to-date on current affairs. “He’s very no-nonsense,” she said with a laugh.

Vogelgesang married his wife, Irene, in 1945 and they had three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The Legion of Honour is the highest decoration bestowed by France, and more than a thousand Canadian veterans have received a medal since 2014.

The consulate general said anyone who knows a living Canadian veteran who took part in the operations on French soil can contact the French Embassy in Ottawa because they may be eligible for the medal.

France’s Legion of Honour was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward citizens for their merits, no matter their background.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

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