Remembering D-Day

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People have tried to imagine it, history has tried to tell about it, and Hollywood has tried to depict it.For instance in 1998, tinseltown superstars Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg spent millions of dollars and several months just to film a short, 27 minute re-enactment of the fateful day soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy on what's come to be known as D-Day.It was a pivotal moment of the Second World War, but not even the best Hollywood has to offer can fully capture what it was like for the brave souls who stepped up voluntarily and took part in something that would change the course of history forever.

To truly understand what it meant and what it was like, one would have had to be there, and experience it themselves.

Such is the case with Springdale resident Herb Pike.

Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Mr. Pike spent much of his childhood in the Buchans area.

"My father worked with the Newfoundland railroad," he said. "But that was way, way back."

When the railroad was put through the island, the family moved to Buchans Junction, and then on to Buchans. It was there a young Mr. Pike finished his schooling at the age of 17.

The year was 1940, and conflict in Europe was on the rise, as a second war had broken out, and was quickly escalating far beyond the one that had ended just 20 years earlier. Spearheaded by a man that had already made a name for himself as evil, Adolf Hitler's Germany seemed to have the upper hand over the Allies - and word had gotten back to a young man and his friends.

"The word was going around at the time that Hitler wanted to take over the world and make us all slaves," recalled Mr. Pike. "That's what we were told - that's what everyone was told. We just knew that we couldn't let that happen, so we decided to try and help out."

Along with several school mates, Mr. Pike enlisted in the Royal British Air Force.

After a medical and some preliminary screenings in St. John's, they were sent to Quebec for flight training. Nine months later, Mr. Pike was given a licence and an airplane and sent to the Bahamas where he picked up a crew, became familiar with the protocol and the practice of air combat and dropping bombs.

"We left the base in the Bahamas and flew right to England," he said. "We spent a month getting familiar with the routes and territory over there."

Then it was time to take off from the grassy banks of England's countryside and head to the battleground of Germany's airspace. A year prior to that, Mr. Pike was sitting in a classroom in Buchans, hearing rumours of a dictator half way around the world that wanted to use him as a slave. Now, sitting in the cockpit of a fighter plane, he was off to fight the army of the very man of which the rumours were about.

Then, on June 5, 1944, Mr. Pike turned 21 years old, it was to be a day that thousands of young soldiers just like him would never forget.

"D-Day was supposed to be on the fifth," he said. "Which would have been my birthday. But the weather was really bad that day, so they pushed it off to the next day."

The picture Mr. Pike paints about D-Day is hardly imaginable to those who hear it.

"We had over 3000 planes in the air that day," he said.

One of them was piloted by the young man from Buchans.

"The North Sea was packed full of every kind of ship you can imagine. Corvettes, Destroyers, Battleships - you name it.

"They had Landing Barges by the hundreds," he continued. "We could look down and see all the men on the beaches - some alive and still fighting, and some not."

It's statements like that which makes one realize just how much a part of history and the reshaping of the world Mr. Pike's actions were. For him, though, words like "hero" and "history maker" are like water off the duck's back.

"We did it," he said. "For some it was a big deal, I suppose, but for us it was what we did - it was what we had to do, and that was it."

When asked about the amount of combat he experienced, his response is quick and simple.

"Too much," he said with a slight quiver in his voice. "If I talk about it, I start crying and I can't take it."

In addition to the atrocities experienced during his time overseas, Mr. Pike also lost his friends who left Buchans with him that fateful day, along with a brother who is buried somewhere in Europe in an unmarked grave.

One can only try to imagine what images come in Mr. Pike's mind when the subject of war is raised.

"My heart breaks when I see on the news that we've lost another soldier in Afghanistan," he said. "Please - bring them home."

As the time for the poppy rolls around again, Mr. Pike is reminded of the things he experienced all those years ago.

"It's particularly hard, because you're always brought back to it."

In any case, whether it's shaking hands with Winston Churchill, or flying over the beaches of Normandy, forever etched in Mr. Pike's mind are the pictures that history tells, and Hollywood has only tried to portray.

Baie Verte Peninsula Correspondent

Geographic location: Buchans Junction, Europe, Germany Springdale Newfoundland railroad Bahamas England St. John's Quebec Afghanistan Normandy Hollywood

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