He risked his life to fight for our freedom.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, one of the big battles in the history of the free world. Donald Angus, Gunner, regimental number L11305, Island Tank 3rd Division, was there, deep in the thick of occupied territory.
From the dark, smoky landing in Normandy, to the bloody D-Day battle and final triumphant crossing of the Rhine, he shared in it all -- the pain, the glory, the agony -- and got out with his life.
He had risked life and limb for his country and fellow soldiers, given his all and came home safe and sound -- one of the lucky ones, one of the boys.
It wasn't until he got back home to Canada that Angus realized that he wasn't "one of the boys" any longer. He wasn't on equal footing with the other guys in his squadron. He was a Canadian Native veteran, discriminated against in his own country by the government and people he risked his life to protect. He was a soldier left out in the cold, shut out by the federal government and betrayed by some of his own band members back home on the reserve in Saskatchewan.
"It all happened a long time ago, you know. When something like that happened, you just don't forget about it. Sometimes you remember and it's like it just happened yesterday. Even now at night in my dreams I remember. I sit up in bed and then realize I'm safe now. I can never forget, especially when I remember waking up in a trench with three dead Germans.
"When I first decided to enlist, my grandfather, Louis Angus, told me, `Go ahead, do your best, fight for your country.' He was in the Riel Rebellion, you know, a real fighter. He talked to Poundmaker. My mom and dad, Joe Angus, didn't try to stop me either and they were all glad when I came back alive because there had been so many dead Canadian soldiers on the beach in Normandy."
Angus enlisted as a young man who was hitting his stride in the war years between 1942 and 1946. Starting his military training in Grand Prairie, Alta., he took advanced training in Petawawa, Ont., moved to Halifax and was shipped over to England with the 3rd Division for the D-Day landing, a particularly rough crossing that left many soldiers ill and rolling with seasickness on the decks.
"There were not many Native Canadians in my outfit. We were given special pistol training in England to get ready for the landing. On June 6, 1944, we traveled 22 miles across the English Channel on barges, carrying extra guns, clothing and ammunition. There were air bombers bombing the beaches when we got off the boats. The water was red with blood. The Germans had been there in France for five years, waiting. They had machine guns but they couldn't see us because of the smoke screen. We couldn't see the skies because of the smoke. It was like a big gray cloud up there, but we could hear the screaming of the airplanes as they dropped the bombs. There were dead soldiers lying all over the beach, friends and comrades, wounded and killed."
The Second World War came to a speedy end once the allied troops of Canadian, English, American and Polish soldiers stormed the Germans' encampments.
"The Germans fought back. They were pretty well equipped, you know, in their cement bunkers. They had good weapons, communications and transportation, but they ran out of gas. Soon they were walking out of there or riding horses stolen from the French farms. We pushed on from June to September, through the lines in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, finally crossing the Rhine when the war was over."
The 3rd Division fought on, up to a week in some of the strategic military strongholds, cleaning up pockets of resistance.
"There were no differences in nationalities among the allied troops. We were all brothers. Native and non-Native officers and soldiers were treated exactly the same. We all depended on each other, watched each other's backs, saved each other's lives. We had no heavy equipment, lived on our wits. We were all fighting for the same thing."
Many fellow soldiers owed their lives to the bravery of the men in the 3rd Division.
"Raymond Sutter from Viking, Alta., you know, the dad from the hockey family, got hit in the leg real bad and we saved him, dragged him to safety. Mike Cosmo from Toronto had his leg blown wide open. He just laid there so I grabbed him, took cover and pulled him to safety. He lost the leg but lived to go home."
Angus faced danger many times but his most hair-raising experience happened in the aftermath of a huge bomb explosion.
"After a long tough night, I jumped into a trench with my machine gun to take cover and sleep. When I woke up there were three Germans sitting there with guns looking at me. I tried to scramble out of the trench and turned to take another look when I saw that they were dead. Sitting up straight, eyes open and dead. They must have been killed by concussion when a bomb went off very close. I had to sit there with them until they called `all clear' so we could come out."
Even after the fighting was over, the 3rd Division had to deal with groups of dangerous fanatics, men and members of the Hitler Youth Corps who wouldn't give up and wouldn't budge from their manholes.
"Some of them died defending their ground. We had to firebomb them out and many died. They died for Hitler"
When it came right down to basic survival skills, Native Canadian ingenuity came in very handy overseas, said Angus.
"Our troop had pretty good food over there but the French people were starving. Those city guys didn't know how to look after themselves. They had no grub, nothing. We made a big fire, killed a yearling steer and I showed them how to skin it, cut it up and cook it. We had some good punch and potatoes and, oh, those boys were hungry. They said, `Boy, those Indians sure know how to cook good food!'
After the war was over, the Germans were allowed to go home on foot ... and hungry.
"We turned a lot of the road signs around to confuse them and had to clear a lot of dead men, horses, trucks and tanks off the roads. What a stink that was. When we crossed the Rhine and got to Germany we went to a bar on a barge that hadn't been bombed. They opened up three beers for us. Some Germans came and sat with us, shook hands and said, `You don't know me and I don't know you. Why are we fighting? It's between Hitler and Churchill. You never did nothing to us. Us poor people, we don't want to fight you guys.'"
After an operation and the end of the war, Donald Angus was shipped home to Canada on the Queen Elizabeth.
"I was scared to come home again, but the water was as smooth as glass. We landed in the St. Lawrence River and then went through Quebec City and on to Saskatoon by train. I came home and started to farm. My father and I had broken and plowed land on our reserve, a homesite, cropland and pasture up north, around 300 acres and a new tractor. When I went away, other people put their cattle and horses on my land and a little village had grown up on our homesite. I had no fence. Buildings and houses on the land that I had broke with my dad with 16 horses, land given to us by the reserve and Indian Affairs was taken away by the chief and given to Other people. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn't put other Native people's animals in the pound. It was their land too, on the reserve."
Back in the late forties you had to work to support a family. With no work on the reserve and his wife Louisa Okanee and their five children to provide for, Angus left to go into construction in Red Deer and Vegreville, Alta. He had wanted to farm but had not received the same parcel of farmland that had been given to non-Native veterans.
"That's what all these meeting with the federal government have been about. We have good pensions but hope they settle this land dispute soon because there are not many [war] veterans left. We are getting too old to farm. They were supposed to give us our own land off-reserve. Instead they gave us land on the reserve, land we already owned and shared. "Canada used to be our country, you know, belonged to all Native people. Ours until they took it away from us and moved us out to the reserves. We fought for Canada, took the same risks as the other soldiers, got the same medals, but when we came home, they didn't want to give us land like the rest of the veterans."
Angus, who attends Remembrance Day ceremonies every year and special D-Day memorial commemorations, also attends gatherings of Native Saskatchewan veterans.
"We fought for our land, our country, Canada. Now we are still fighting for our land, the land our Native veterans never received. I want to tell them to hurry up. We are dying out. They are so slow, the government."
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|Author:||Green, Pamela Sexsmith|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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