Written in parentheses, Dennis Trudeau’s outcome was somberly labeled on his suitcase by the British Army.
Trudeau: Personal kit H-195460 (Deceased).
“After the war was over, I flew back to England to get my personal items,” the former Grovetown mayor said. “But when I picked up my case, the bag-tag label said I was deceased. There was only one problem – I wasn’t dead.”
Trudeau, a paratrooper for the Canadian Army, survived D-Day, as well as 11 months that followed as a prisoner of war.
For nearly a year, his whereabouts were unknown to Allied troops, while he lived on bread, potato skins, soup and occasionally horse meat.
“I weighed 135 pounds when I parachuted onto land (near Juno Beach). When the war was over, I weighed 85,” he said. “I don’t know how I survived other than there must have been an angel beside me.”
Despite turning 89 last Sunday, memories from June 6, 1944, haven’t escaped Trudeau.
In fact, seven decades later, they’ve grown more distinct.
From the flight from England to the historic night in Normandy, it’s all vivid.
What stands out most are the casualties.
“It’s hard to describe what took place that night,” Trudeau said. “The things I saw … There were boots without legs, arms without hands. It was unimaginable. Truly unimaginable.”
Trudeau was one of 150,000 Canadian, U.S. and British troops battling the Nazis on D-Day.
Thousands were killed, while hundreds were taken prisoner, including Trudeau.
For 11 months, the teenager was held captive by Nazi soldiers, forced to work coal mines and railroads in Halle, Germany.
“We worked from 6 a.m. to 5 or 6 every night,” Trudeau said. “Not only were we not given much to eat, but we were under attack a lot, too. Not a day went
by when I wasn’t scared for my life.”
Finally, he escaped.
“One morning we got up and there weren’t any guards around,” Trudeau said. “They were all gone. So we marched towards this town and suddenly we saw (an American) GI with his helmet on and a cigarette in his mouth. It was May 13, 1945 – the happiest day of my life. We almost killed the GI because we hugged him so hard. At that point, we all knew we were free.”
Trudeau still questions how – and why – he survived.
“There were times when I was inches away from death,” he said. “Literally inches. To this day, I still live with what I experienced. I never imagined I’d see the 70th anniversary of D-Day.”
Although Trudeau recalled his 11 months in captivity as “frightening,” it’s D-Day itself the Grovetown resident remains humbled by.
Flying above the French coast, Trudeau parachuted onto Juno Beach, where his mission was to secure bridges and disrupt Nazi communication.
As his parachute avoided gunfire, only one thought crossed Trudeau’s mind.
“I looked to the good Lord and prayed to see another sunrise,” he said. “That’s all I asked – just one more sunrise. Now 70 years later, I can’t count the number I’ve seen. Let’s just say I’ve been very, very blessed.”