One of Langley’s last surviving Second World War veterans, John Swityk, wasn’t about to let a pandemic stop him from paying his respects on Remembrance Day.
There may not have been any official Remembrance services in Langley City’s Douglas Park Wednesday morning, but the 99-year-old Regina Rifle Regiment sergeant was not about to forego his tradition of visiting the cenotaph.
In the past seven decades, he’s never missed a Remembrance Day tribute. And since he and his wife moved to Murrayville in 1994, he’s never missed a Langley service.
He wasn’t going to break with that tradition in 2020, just because of COVID-19. It just meant doing things differently, Swityk told his family.
Although he was anxious about going, because of COVID, he hoped getting there early, getting in and out, and getting back home might be doable.
Now admittedly, Swityk chose to attend the cenotaph a little earlier than normal – arriving before 9 a.m. – and the length of his visit was only a matter of minutes compared to almost two hours during a normal service, explained his granddaughter TaraLee Richards, who came out to watch him from a distance.
“But he still marched up [to the cenotaph], as best he could, did a little salute, and then laid his wreath, stood for a few distanced photos, then left. He was literally in and out of there in less than five minutes,” said Richards, who shared a brief video and some photos of her hero on Facebook.
“We watched from afar,” she said, almost in tears recounting how happy he was to see his three great grandchildren, ranging in age from four to eight, even if it was from a distance. Each of them drew him a picture for the occasion.
“We haven’t been able to really visit him since the weather changed,” and distanced outdoor visits in his front yard have once again became impossible, Richards explained. She also noted that because of hearing limitations speaking with her grandfather on the phone is near impossible.
“It’s normally such a huge day for him,” his granddaughter elaborated. “But this year, he’s all alone. He’s been all alone for six months. We just had to be there.”
“It was just us,” added Richards, noting that three generations of the family came out to watch the sergeant – who was knightd by the French Legion in 2015 – honour his friends and countrymen who lost their lives in war.
“Grandpa never misses a service, and he said he wasn’t going to now. He insisted he need to go and show his respects.”
In past, Swityk has shared with the Langley Advance Times why he has been 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. I just think I need to do this every year for them.”
With the aid of his walker, and the morale support of his family, the sergeant was still able to pay his respects this year.
“We’re just so thankful he was able to get there, and to do this,” Richards concluded.
Is there more to this story?