Decorated war veteran honoured at Legion

April 6, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

Almost 74 years on from the Normandy landings and right on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge and one Orangeville veteran is finally getting the recognition he deserves after fighting and valiantly serving his country during the Second World War.

99-year-old Albert Bolen Henderson, known affectionately as Bo to his friends and family, was a medic, serving in the 4th Division Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. Last Thursday (March 30), a group of 50 friends and families gathered at the Orangeville Legion to watch as local MP for Dufferin-Caledon David Tilson presented Bo with an honourary 1939-1945 Victory Lapel Pin.

“This pin is a token of our appreciation for the sacrifices our military made during the Second World War,” Mr. Tilson said. “It’s a big deal to honour these fellows that literally saved our skins during the war. They lived through hell and I feel we now have an obligation to honour those that are still amongst us.”

Sat at the front of the room alongside his caregiver – niece Donna Henderson – Bo was a picture of pride as Mr. Tilson carefully placed the pin on his suit jacket. Speaking to the Citizen at the ceremony in place of her uncle, Ms. Henderson said it was with great pride but little expectation that Bo was here to accept this latest honour.

“The first thing my uncle said when I told him about this ceremony was ‘I do not believe I deserve this, I do not believe I need to have this done for me’ – that speaks volumes as to the type of humble, wonderful person he is,” Donna said. “He served on the front lines as a medic – he went into the battlefield to bring the wounded and injured back to base hospital, and he had very little protection while doing so. It was not a very safe or easy job.”

Thanks to his “impeccable” memory, Bo retains several memories from his four-year spell in the military. One such story he has shared with his family revolves around D-Day and the Normandy Landings, which took place on June 6, 1944. Bo was amongst the first responders on the second day of battle – witnessing horrors unlike anything he’d ever seen before.

“As a medic myself, I’ve seen a lot of death in my life, but to see it at that level, to that extent would be absolutely frightening. You have to remember too, technology was nowhere near as advanced back then as it is today, so these men, like Bo, were running in there with next to nothing trying to help those that have fallen,” said local Legion President Chris Skalozub, who noted he “just had to” get involved and offer up the Legion as a location for the pin presentation when he heard about Bo’s story.

“This is something that is so incredibly past due. As a veteran and President of this Legion, I think it’s absolutely fantastic that we can still see our veterans from the Second World War and appreciate the service they’ve done,” Mr. Skalozub said. “To have this amount of people out here to show this level of respect today is phenomenal.”

Following his military tenure, Bo returned home to his wife Mary and picked up where he left off with his job as a researcher for Connaught Laboratories. According to Donna, her uncle Bo worked on developing vaccines for rabies and polio. Following several years of retirement and the death of his wife, Bo moved to Orangeville shortly before the new millennium, taking up residence at the Lord Dufferin Centre.

“He didn’t last there too long,” Donna scoffed. “He had lived there for three years when, at the ripe old age of 85, he told me he wanted to find a new place to stay. He was concerned that if he stayed living at the Lord Dufferin Centre that he would get old!”

And so Bo purchased a condo of his own, moving into the relatively new Bromont Place complex.

“He loves it there now,” Donna says. “He’s a fixture. Everybody knows him – it’s a great setting for him to live.”

For his time spent in the military, Bo has been presented with the 1939-1945 European Star for Services Overseas, the 1939-1945 France-Germany Star, the King George Commonwealth medal, the Volunteer Service Medal and the Good Conduct Service Medal. Having the opportunity to watch her uncle add another honour to his repertoire was an emotional moment for Donna and the rest of her family.

“It’s an absolute honour to be here today to celebrate with uncle Bo. He’s absolutely getting what he deserves. He’s always had such a big heart and he needs to be recognized, respected and memorialized for what he did during the war,” Donna said. “This is about recognizing his contributions. Although he doesn’t like to brag, this is a special moment for all of his family and friends to see him made the centre of attention for all the sacrifices he made in his early life.”

She concluded, “This is one of the proudest and most special moments in my life.”

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