There is nothing like a Dame

RCAF vet Charley Fox leaning on one of his beloved Spitfires; but a day in 2006 nearly topped that.

A student pilot nearly killed him in a training accident in November 1942. While still an instructor in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, during the Second World War here in Canada, he’d survived a head-on collision with another aircraft near Bagotville, Quebec. And overseas during combat operations flying Spitfires, RCAF airman Charley Fox also survived 234 combat sorties as a fighter pilot. And yet, it was a June evening in 2006, that Charley told me just about topped them all.

“Meeting Dame Vera Lynn,” Fox said, “was a highlight in my life.”

A “Where were you when…” moment

Reporter J. Frank Willis interviews mine with the rescue team at the Moose River mine cave-in, April 1936. He is speaking to more than 100 million people on radio stations across Canada, the U.S. and Britain.
Reporter J. Frank Willis interviews miner with the rescue team at the Moose River mine cave-in, in Nova Scotia, in April 1936. His non-stop broadcasts on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission are being heard by more than 100 million people on radio stations across Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

You’ve probably never heard of Luis Iribarren. Or Claudio Lagos. And you’ll likely never run across Dario Rojo in your lifetime. But, in fact, you do know them, all of them. They are three of the 33 men trapped in the Chilean mine since Aug. 5. For the record, you probably remember the very first words that Iribarren spoke to the world on Aug. 22.

“We are well,” he said through a communication line, “and we are hoping that you will rescue us.”

Youth, the cost of war

Dutch liberation vet Ron Charland (left) is joined by air cadet Bo Gibbons during VE Day parade in Apeldoorn, May 9, 2010.
Dutch liberation vet Ron Charland (left) is joined by air cadet Bo Gibbons during VE Day parade in Apeldoorn, May 9, 2010.

As a boy, not surprisingly, he joined the scout movement. He loved to listen to the wireless radio broadcasts that came all the way from the BBC in England. But in every other way Jan Van Hoof was an ordinary Dutch boy during the Second World War. That is, until Sept. 17, 1944. During the next 24 hours, as Allied paratroops descended through the skies over his hometown of Nijmegen, Van Hoof left his youth behind. And it was summed up in what he said to his parents that day.

“The bridge is safe,” he said.

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Hands up, if you believed the statement that President Barack Obama is a radical Muslim who would not recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. Or more recently, and closer to home, the story that began circulating last Thursday, that Canadian folk music icon Gordon Lightfoot is dead. When the legendary singer-songwriter heard about his so-called demise he contacted the Toronto media outlet CP24.

“I haven’t gotten that much airplay of my songs in weeks,” he told them.