by Kirk Grayson/Special to The News
My first Going Green column in June of 2019 was an homage to my dad, Bill Grayson.
At the time, Canada was gearing up to honour the landing on Juno Beach that helped to turn the tide of the Second World War.
My dad won the second highest Canadian honour – the Military Cross – for his mind-blowing deeds of bravery during the landing at Juno Beach.
He and many others sacrificed so much to secure the safe, comfortabl,e and democratic lives we’ve been blessed with since then.
My dad’s been gone for many years now, but in that first column I was wondering how he’d feel about the state of the world he’d fought to protect, if he were still alive.
Dad grew up exploring the prairie on horseback with his cousins. He loved that land all his life.
One of my favourite memories of him was the two of us climbing a small hill behind our cottage at Buffalo Pound Lake in Saskatchewan. We’d each find a lichen-covered rock to perch on, and gaze out over the lake while the sun set and the prairie gave out its unforgettable fragrance.
We’d watch a little pelican ballet, then stroll back across the silty dirt road to our two-room beachside shack with its fireplace built from stones my parents had gathered from the fields.
When the Second World War broke out, my dad was at university. About 20 minutes after he graduated, he enlisted with the Regina Rifles.
Dad’s first day of action was at Juno Beach, which was a grim and frightening experience for the souls who made it to shore. Many did not.
Leading a unit of men who were under attack from an enemy machine gun, dad single-handedly took out the pillbox and disabled the gun that was strafing the beach.
Some years ago, the History Channel shot a docu-drama called “Storming Juno,” which showcases the angst and the heroism of that day. Dad’s actions form one of the main story lines of the film, which is available from many sources at this time of year.
About three weeks after Juno Beach, Dad was badly wounded, which ended his brief career as a superhero. He was patched up, awarded the MC and sent home.
After that, he literally had no desire to ever leave the Prairies again.
My mother managed to finagle one trip to the Seattle World’s Fair out of him, and he later made a trip to Mexico on business. He worked for the federal government in later years and begrudgingly made the odd trip to Ottawa.
But the man was 100% tied to the land he loved.
All his life he continued to ride his horses through the prairie grasses, spent as much time as possible at his much-loved cottage (which eventually expanded to include an indoor bathroom), snowshoed, cross-country skied, hunted, birdwatched, swam, canoed, and sailed.
Whatever else my dad was, he was surely a man of the land.
Dad died 30 years ago, just before the idea of climate change was gaining recognition.
But I no longer wonder what he would think about the state of the world. I know he would be heartbroken.
Not only would the heat waves, storms, drought, and wildfires tear him apart, but he’d be distraught to learn that the temperate grasslands he loved are the world’s most endangered ecosystem, and that many of the Prairies’ wild birds, such as whooping cranes and burrowing owls, are at risk of extinction.
I imagine Dad would feel as sad and helpless as he would if someone had come and trashed his cottage. Maybe more.
A cottage can be rebuilt. The earthly home that nourished his soul is at risk of being irreversibly destroyed.
Dad was an optimist, but he wasn’t a fool.
When he crossed the beach in Normandy, he timed the machine gun carefully before he charged forward. He knew exactly how much time he had between rounds of gunfire. When the time came, he ran so fast and so hard that even getting snagged on the rolls of barbed wire couldn’t stop him. He let nothing get in the way of accomplishing the goal he had set himself: to reach that pillbox, toss in a grenade and stop the gunner.
He didn’t bank on the gunner picking up the live grenade and toss it back out, but that’s exactly what happened.
When Dad threw it back in – yes, picked it up and threw it again – it exploded and knocked out the machine gun. Then – clearly high on adrenalin by this time – Dad entered the pillbox, followed the gunner through a tunnel and captured 20 enemy soldiers.
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Fighting climate change is going to require us all to be as brave and audacious as my 24-year-old dad on Juno Beach.
Like he did before his dash across no man’s land, we need to gather as much information as we can, plan carefully, and then run like hell across the uncertain bridge between today’s high-emission world and tomorrow’s low-carbon future.
It will not be easy.
We’ll encounter unforeseen obstacles, like the rolls of barbed wire Dad had to drag himself through.
We’ll have to deal with unexpected challenges, like the live grenade landing back at his feet.
We’ll have to stay brave and act quickly.
But if Dad had done nothing that day, and if all the other soldiers who went with him had done nothing, think where the world would be now.
So as we honour the brave men and women who fought to protect our precious freedoms in the past, let us allow their purposeful, personal, reckless courage inspire us to meet the biggest challenge of our time with equal strength and determination to protect our future.
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– Kirk Grayson is a digital strategy consultant and founding member of the Maple Ridge Climate Hub
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