The last time Red Deer’s Richard Krepps was in France, the country was at war.
Krepps, who goes by Frank, hasn’t been back to France since the Second World War. But on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the central Albertan is in France, as one of the 36 veterans in the Canadian delegation.
For Krepps, D-Day means remembering all the Canadian soldiers that did not make it back.
“In my heart, all of our boys that didn’t come, that’s D-Day for me,” he said. “I’m going over there to say my goodbye.”
During the trip from June 3 to 9, he will participate in several D-Day ceremonies around Paris and Normandy, and visit cemeteries and bridges that the engineer helped build back in the day.
“I’ve always wanted to go there – I have never seen Paris,” he said, adding Holland has also been on his list of places to visit.
The Red Deer veteran is looking forward to attending all the ceremonies, “but it’s when I hit the beach… I lost a lot of my buddies there. It’ll be tough,” he said about his trip.
The Canadian delegates are invited to the Juno Beach Centre for a visit on June 5 and at the ceremony on June 6.
Krepps remembers arriving in Normandy after D-Day because the Germans kept “shelling.”
“We were supposed to be there for D-Day.”
The captain of the convoy ship was scared and docked about four feet in the water, Krepps said in a recent interview. Which means Krepps, a dispatch rider, had to get himself and his motorcycle on to the beach.
Upon docking, Krepps remembers seeing dead bodies and describes the scene “a bloody mess.”
He remembers fighting and losing his buddies and riding his motorcycle alone.
“They called me hell on wheels,” the 96-year-old said with a chuckle, adding he never rode again once he came back to Canada in 1946.
Krepps grew up on a Saskatchewan farm. He enlisted in the army in 1941, as an antidote to the Great Depression. His two brothers and a sister had also decided to serve overseas.
At the time, he was an adventure-seeking 17-year-old who was game for anything. He became a dispatch motorcyclist entrusted to carry important messages for the Royal Canadian Engineers, B Company.
Krepps remembers fighting the Germans for the Caen-Carpiquet Airport in the Normandy region.
“Germans had it, so we took it, but they came back again and they outnumbered us, so they took it, but we fought like hell and took it back again.
“Canadians were good fighters. Our troops were so good nothing could stop us.”
Another Alberta veteran, William Hargen Wilson from High River, is also part of the Canadian delegation. The Winnipeg-born veteran began his military career in December 1942 with the Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and prepared for duty at sea.
Known during the war as Tug, and later as Captain Bill, he retired from active service in 1979, having reached the rank of captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.