"I had a big radio on my back, and I’m not very tall – I’m only 5’6”. I dang near drowned!"
My name is Vern Westhaver. I am now eighty-three years old.
First of all, I joined the Air Force, and I was going in as a wireless air gunner, but they put me on a waiting list for about eight months, and I must admit, I got a little tired waiting for my call. So one night we had a party, and a bunch of us decided to join the Army. That was May the 4th, 1942.
I took my basic training at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and then they shipped me overseas. I ended up going to a wireless school for… it must have been seven or eight months, learning Morse code and how to send messages. It was really quite interesting. I was young.
I never volunteered for anything, but we were training for this big invasion of France for months and months before it happened. So when D-Day came, I was on the beach. I had a big radio on my back, and I'm not very tall – I'm only 5'6". I dang near drowned! When the door opened in that little boat, I jumped in the water, and the water was right up around my shoulders. It ruined the radio. You know, I still remember that day. Bodies were floating in the water. We were all so young. I was twenty-one years old, and I was pushing these dead bodies out of the way, and I knew they were all young like me. You could see 'Canada' on their shoulders, and there they were, head down in the water. I got through that OK, and I was running up the beach, and all of a sudden, an airplane came down. I didn't know what kind it was, but I noticed sparks coming out of the wings. Then it dawned on me – that airplane was shooting at us. Then all of a sudden, the beach almost jumped up with all these bullets hitting it. I jumped in a hole, and landed right on a dead Canadian.
Then I thought… the light snapped on and I thought, "Boy, this is war!" The first few days, I'll tell you – it was scary. I remember getting off of the set one night, and all of a sudden, this little short guy jumped out of the woods – Canadian – and he stuck a machine gun in my chest, and he hollered at me, "Fish! Fish! Fish!" I didn't know what he was talking about. Anyway, I had my hands up. I was scared to death, because he had one of these Sten machine guns. They could go off at any time. So he took me down to headquarters, and when the Colonel saw me, he said, "Oh heck! He's one of our wireless operators." I said to the Colonel, "What was that all about, Sir?" He said, "Didn't you know the password?" I said, "No." He said, "The password was 'Fish and Chips'!"