It was 70 years ago, but Armstrong veteran George Hoffman still vividly remembers what he sarcastically calls the D-Day “picnic.”
A crew commander with the rank of corporal for the 12th Manitoba Dragoons’ 18th armoured car regiment, Hoffman – who signed up for military duty in Winnipeg – arrived with fellow Canadian troops on the beaches of Normandy, France in July 1944, a month after the D-Day invasion.
“We still had another two months of the picnic in Normandy,” said Hoffman, 92, one of the many allied soldiers who helped liberate France and Europe with its victory over the Germans during the Second World War.
“Every once in a while, I get a whiff or a scent of something that immediately takes me back there.”
On Sunday, in front of a capacity crowd at the Armstrong Royal Canadian Legion branch 35 – where he served as president from 1968-70 – Hoffman was awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion Of Honour.
The French government, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, has decided to bestow awards upon all of the living Canadian veterans who participated in the D-Day operations.
The Legion of Honour is the highest decoration that France can bestow. It is equivalent to the Order of Canada in this country.
Hoffman joins the like of former governor-general Michaelle Jean, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King as Legion of Honour recipients.
“Many people in this world made the ultimate sacrifice to allow their friends and relatives to remain unchained,” said Ted Johnston of the Armstrong Legion, master of ceremonies for Sunday’s honour, reading from a letter sent by the French consulate to Hoffman on the occasion.
“This is the sacrifice more than 45,000 Canadians made during the Second World War. Thank you, Mr. Hoffman, for fighting at our side for freedom and democracy. Thank you for fighting against prejudice and ignorance. Thank you for making my family a happy, living family. And thank you for making my land a free country.”
Making the presentation to Hoffman was Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper on behalf of the French government.
Pieper pinned the honour on Hoffman’s blue blazer decorated with his other military awards.
“I am extremely humbled to be doing this today,” said Pieper. “Congratulations, George. This is such a fantastic recognition.”
Hoffman was accompanied by his wife of “69 years this fall if she doesn’t kill me,” Esther, who could be seen dabbing her eyes throughout the 15-minute ceremony.
Also on hand were the Hoffman’s four surviving children, Doug, Eileen, Lyle and Debbie, and a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A fifth child, Barry, who died last year, was represented by his son, Jason.
Hoffman retired from the army as a sergeant and headed west with Esther on their honeymoon to visit relatives and never left Armstrong. He worked in the sawmill and logging industries, retiring from Tolko Industries.
Hoffman was humbled by the award, accepting it on behalf of his comrades in arms.
“It is an honour to receive this and I do so on behalf of all of those who took part and those who never made it home,” said Hoffman.