The last hurrah: Royal Canadian Legion hopes to connect all remaining WW II vets in N.L.

·3 min read
Rod Deon, when he joined the navy, and Rod Deon today. He turns 100 on July 2, and wanted to use the occasion to honour his comrades and help the Royal Canadian Legion. (Fred Hutton/CBC - image credit)
Rod Deon, when he joined the navy, and Rod Deon today. He turns 100 on July 2, and wanted to use the occasion to honour his comrades and help the Royal Canadian Legion. (Fred Hutton/CBC - image credit)
Rod Deon, when he joined the navy, and Rod Deon today. He turns 100 on July 2, and wanted to use the occasion to honour his comrades and help the Royal Canadian Legion.
Rod Deon, when he joined the navy, and Rod Deon today. He turns 100 on July 2, and wanted to use the occasion to honour his comrades and help the Royal Canadian Legion.(Fred Hutton/CBC)

Eight decades after the Second World War was in full force, how many veterans of that conflict are left in Newfoundland and Labrador, and how do we best make use of the time left with them?

Those are questions that Jenn Deon hopes to tackle this summer.

Deon — volunteer secretary for the Royal Canadian Legion's Branch 56, in the Pleasantville neighbourhood of St. John's — is overseeing Operation Roll Call, a project to contact all remaining veterans, whether members of the legion or not.

"I think all of us in this world, we want to know what we did mattered," Deon said Wednesday. "And their lives certainly mattered. So that'll be the feeling, hopefully, we can leave them with."

The legion will toast toast veterans at A Night at the USO on July 2. The night will be a celebration with food and music to honour veterans' service, while they are still here.

"The heart of it is that opportunity. Who knows how many we'll have that night... when we all stand in their honour and with a deep sense of thanks, because there really is no other event in our memory that matches World War II and the sacrifice that the greatest generation gave us," Deon said in an interview with the St. John's Morning Show.

The evening will feature an address from Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote and live performances by Come From Away's Petrina Bromley and the Royal Newfoundland Regimental Band. A steak and lobster dinner will be served — all free for veterans and a guest for each.

COVID-19 regulations will be followed. "We have a very large ballroom at our branch. It's the largest wooden dance floor actually in Newfoundland," said Deon. "Normally we can accommodate up to 300. But we're only putting a portion of that in place."

It's a personal mission for Deon, whose father Rod is a Canadian navy veteran who took part in the invasion of Normandy. He still volunteers with the legion today, selling poppies each year for Remembrance Day.

July 2 is Rod Deon's 100th birthday. Jennifer Deon said he wanted to use the occasion to raise money for the legion and honour his fellow comrades.

"Statistically, the very youngest WW II veteran would be about 93 years old." she said.

A CBC News report estimated that as of 2020, of the 22,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who enlisted or served in some capacity during the war, only about two dozen were still living, with 10 of those in care at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John's.

The numbers give an urgency to Jenn Deon's search.

"We want to give you a ceremonial entrance with our full colour party. You will be seated in a place of honour and you will be treated to an evening where the focus is on your service," she said.

"And for one last time we can thank you."

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