Murrayville’s John Swityk had to pay his respects to his fallen comrades from D-Day, as well as all the other soldiers – past and present – who have sacrificed. Despite most Remembrance Day ceremonies being cancelled, the 99-year-old Langley man insisted on visiting the Langley cenotaph Nov. 11, 2020. (TaraLee Richards/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Murrayville’s John Swityk had to pay his respects to his fallen comrades from D-Day, as well as all the other soldiers – past and present – who have sacrificed. Despite most Remembrance Day ceremonies being cancelled, the 99-year-old Langley man insisted on visiting the Langley cenotaph Nov. 11, 2020. (TaraLee Richards/Special to Langley Advance Times)

One of Langley’s last surviving Second World War veterans is turning 100

One of the first soldiers to land on Juno Beach on D-Day, John Swityk insists he’s not a hero

On Aug. 3, Murrayville great-grandfather and Second World War veteran John Swityk will turn 100.

Daughter Dianne Swityk told the Langley Advance Times the event will, of necessity, be a small celebration, limited to family and friends due to the limit on crowd sizes during the pandemic.

They are planning a surprise, but Dianne didn’t want it reported, because her father reads the newspaper.

A profile of Swityk for his birthday, prepared by family friend Eleanor Swan, recorded him saying “he was not a hero, but did his duty the best he could do.”

Dianne has a different view.

“He’s amazing man,” she said, proudly.

Swityk was nearly 19 in 1940 when he enlisted with the First Battalion of the Regina Rifles in North Battleford, SK.

After initial training in Canada, they were shipped overseas in August 1941 to continue their training in Great Britain, while also providing coastal defence.

As a member of an anti-tank platoon, he trained as a Bren gunner.

READ ALSO: D-Day: Langley veteran was part of WWII’s history battle

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Swityk landed on Juno Beach, Normandy, fighting through the town of Courseulles.

“He was the first person in,” Dianne said.

“He was the furthest in.”

On June 7, towing anti-tank guns with light armoured tracked vehicles, the platoon was given the job of taking the village of Norrey en Bessin, the farthest in of the entire Allied advance.

Within the next few days, John was promoted in the field to the rank of Sergeant.

With the platoon, he fought through Normandy, Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany, until the Germans surrendered.

Swityk went on to train occupation personnel in the Netherlands and then served in Great Britain for a few months, before returning home to Saskatchewan in January 1946.

He was in uniform over five and a half years, with 14 months in Canada and four and a half years overseas, including eleven months in action on the front lines.

READ ALSO: France’s highest honour goes to Langley veteran

In 2015, Swityk was appointed a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, receiving the highest French honour from French consul-general Jean-Christophe Fleury at a presentation in Langley.

“Thank you for making my country a free country,” Fleury said, praising Swityk for his “extraordinary bravery.”

Swityk was among 600 Canadian veterans are recognized for their participation in the D-Day invasion that led to the liberation of France and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

READ ALSO: Cancelled services didn’t stop knighted soldier, 99, from paying respects

Every Remembrance Day, he has faithfully laid a cross in memory of his regiment, including a solitary visit last year during the pandemic that forced a cancellation of public gatherings.

In past comments, Swityk, a father of three, grandfather of two and great-grandfather of three, has explained why he was so insistent on attending.

“The reason I come is because when I landed on D-Day [as an anti-tank gunner], I saw for the first time in my life dead people… bodies floating around in the water. They were my friends,” Swityk said.

“I’m here for them. For all the people we lost. For my friends.”


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Langley resident John Swityk of the Regina Rifles listens, as French consul-general Jean-Christophe Fleury thanks him for freeing his country. In 2015, Swityk was presented with the French Legion of Honour award, that country’s highest award, as part of a decision by the French government to honour all living Canadian soldiers who fought during D-Day to help liberate France and defeat Nazi Germany. (Langley Advance Times file)

Langley resident John Swityk of the Regina Rifles listens, as French consul-general Jean-Christophe Fleury thanks him for freeing his country. In 2015, Swityk was presented with the French Legion of Honour award, that country’s highest award, as part of a decision by the French government to honour all living Canadian soldiers who fought during D-Day to help liberate France and defeat Nazi Germany. (Langley Advance Times file)