Jim Parks Landed at Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944 as a Teenager
MOUNT ALBERT, ON – October 8, 2020 – Yesterday Jim Parks, a 96-year-old veteran of the Second World War took the first steps of a symbolic walk in honour of the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives in the war. Mr. Parks was kicking off his role as the official ambassador for the Remembrance Day Races, a virtual run/walk event to raise funds for the Juno Beach Centre (JBC), Canada’s Second World War memorial and museum on the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy.
Starting out at his local Legion Branch 382, Parks, a former marathoner, chose to tackle the JBC’s Strongpoint 1500 m distance, named for the German strongpoint and 1500-metre stretch of beach overcome by Jim’s battalion, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, on D-Day. While cold rain and hail cut short the first leg of his planned distance, he will be continuing his walk of remembrance with the support of his family as November 11th approaches.
“The Juno Beach Centre has steadily grown over the years,” said Alex Fitzgerald Black, historian, author and Manager of Outreach and Operations at the Juno Beach Centre Association, the charity in Canada who operates the JBC. “We welcome about 100,000 guests every year, totalling over 1 million since opening our doors. Many people across Canada will remember the JBC as the site of last year’s official commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was also featured on the Amazing Race Canada where Jim greeted the contestants on the beach. Unfortunately, like so many others, we are in a bit of a rough spot this year because of COVID. We rely on revenue from things like the museum boutique to help fund our operations. This year, we had to close for three months and we don’t anticipate getting back to our normal visitor numbers for years now. The funds raised through the Remembrance Day Races will go a long way toward helping recover our lost revenue so we can weather this pandemic and continue working to make sure people like Jim and his fellow comrades are always honoured and remembered.”
Parks enlisted at only 15 years of age and landed on D-Day when he was 19. 76 years ago today he would have been engaged in battle to take the Leopold Canal in the borderlands between Belgium and the Netherlands. At the Leopold, he and his comrades helped secure one of the most important Canadian-led victories of the war. In an environment characterized by flooded fields and elevated dykes, they endured the mud and cold to defeat German forces along the Scheldt Estuary.
This year Parks has chosen to commemorate Remembrance Day this year by sharing his story and walking to raise awareness of the Juno Beach Centre’s cause, reflect on his remarkable war experience, and to pay tribute to those lost in the war 76 years ago. His goal is to raise one dollar for every Canadian soldier who lost their lives and was laid to rest in cemeteries in Normandy.
“We have 5,200 good Canadian soldiers buried in Normandy,” said Parks. “Regular Canadians; fathers, uncles, that are over there 3,000 miles away. We don’t get to see them so it’s important to bring it forward, to bring the memories back to Canada and show them what this walk is for.”
Parks has returned to Normandy several times since the war, most recently in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Juno Beach Centre, which now stands in almost the same spot where he came ashore that day, June 6, 1944.
“When I am at the Juno Beach Centre, I can look over towards the [Seulles] river and I can tell you exactly where I landed,” Parks said. “I was almost right in front of where the Juno Beach Centre is now.” One of the most harrowing memories Parks shares about his D-Day experience is the moment he came upon his wounded comrade, Cpl. William John Martin lying on Juno beach. Despite the machine gun fire, Parks stopped and held Martin in his arms as the young soldier took his final breaths.
“I do a lot of talks now and I always stress the importance of remembering the people who gave their lives,” said Parks. “This walk is a walk of remembrance. It brings up a lot of memories for me. They become very vivid. When people are doing their own walk of remembrance I want them to take the time to think about the reason they are walking. They are walking for all the Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The Remembrance Day Races are open for registration until November 28. There are three distances participants can choose from: the Strongpoint 1500m, the Juno Beach 8k (the length of the stretch of Norman beach code-named Juno), and the Remembrance 21.1k (named in honour of the 21,000 Canadian and British troops who landed at Juno Beach on D-Day).
Participants receive a race kit from the JBC’s race partner, VR Pro, that includes a commemorative medal modelled after the same medal Parks wears to mark his service in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. It also includes the choice of a neck gaitor or face mask designed for the races, remembrance items from the Legion, a commemorative D-Day map, a Juno Beach coin and more. Race kits will be mailed to participants upon registration. Racers can also set up their own fundraising page where people can sponsor them.
“We are so grateful for the support we have received from all over Canada, as well as people who have registered to run from France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and even Australia,” said Fitzgerald-Black. “It is a testament to the importance of the JBC to people all over the world who recognize the important role Canadians played in the Allied victory. We are especially grateful to have the support of Jim, because he is the reason the JBC exists, the reason we do what we do.”