At 99-years-old, Joseph Monteyne is still as sharp as his navigational skills flying over Germany in the Second World War.
The Vernon resident marks his 100th birthday on July 5, 2021, having survived not just the war, but the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent bout of pneumonia.
Looking at him, still with a nice head of hair and big grin, Monteyne doesn’t look his age.
He still gets around well, with just a little help from a cane.
And his memory serves him well, as he can recall dates and details of his long life.
“I haven’t forgotten everything,” Monteyne said.
Born in Manitoba to a Flemish family, Monteyne grew to learn several languages.
“When I went to school I could not speak English, I had to rely on my two older sisters, which isn’t always easy,” he said.
His father was a mason, bricklayer and was bilingual.
Therefore, the Flemish-speaking Monteyne learned French and English. As a French Canadian flyer, he also learned German.
His work with Monarch Lumber Company brought him to Alberta, Revelstoke and he even moved some of the wood into Vernon.
He also worked in Saskatoon as a construction foreman and in Calgary in manufacturing.
He and his wife, a nurse, had five children, all boys, whom they instilled the importance of education upon.
“Education was uppermost in our minds. My wife and I didn’t have a chance like people today.”
But his most distinguished accomplishments were between 1942 and 1945 serving with the bomber command, French Canadian Squadron Alloette.
It was during this allied bombing campaign that Monteyne navigated his plane and was highly decorated for his service.
“I did 35 (flight missions) and they weren’t the easy ones, they were at the end of the war, long-range, eight hours, nine hours.”
He recalls the dangerous night ops like they were yesterday.
“You do not go looking for trouble; there is enough out there looking for you.
“What you are really doing is annoying the hell out of the enemy, especially since Hitler vowed no bombs would ever fall on German soil.”
And they fell, on both land and water. Monteyne said they were after submarines in Norway and got three of them.
That trip earned him a distinguished flying cross.
He earned many medals, with the latest from France in 2015.
For helping liberate France, the country gave him the Knight of the Legion of Honour.
Monteyne took his experience and used it as a navigational instructor for 200 air cadets in Dauphin, Man.
He recalls teaching at an Indigenous school where he got a lot of the kids to join by sharing his experience.
“I couldn’t get them to stop talking, so I told them my story,” he recalled.
They were instantly quiet and all eyes wide on him as he talked about his experiences flying.
Monteyne later worked 10 years as a real estate appraiser.
“I was told I was natural for that. Strong math,” Monteyne said. “A lot of the missions you were on you had to change a bit and use common sense. Take the bull by the horns.”
Even after retiring at age 63 he continued to serve and volunteered, doing income tax for 15 years for seniors. “Jean Chrétien sent me a letter.”
Now, while he lives at Orchard Valley, he enjoys visiting his good friend Duke Dawe at his BX home.
Dawe, 90, was also a pilot, and their flying background is what drew them together when Monteyne moved to Vernon in the ’80s.
The Army, Navy, Air Force was their home base.
“We used to go there for a steak sandwich every Thursday at noon,” Dawe said.
And now the pair are like family.
“He comes for Christmas, birthdays and whenever else we can get him out,” said Dawe.
“It’s like a home away from home,” Monteyne added.
As a special tribute to this special man’s centennial day, the Snowflakes will be flying over his birthday party Monday.