94 year old WWII Veteran returns to Normandy.
William “Willie” McGregor, a medic with the Essex Scottish Regiment, in the 2nd World War, is traveling overseas with Mayor of Bonnyville, Gene Sobolewski, the mayor’s wife, Carla, and McGregor’s son Lloyd, as his escorts this week. The trio will visit Vimy Ridge on the 100th Anniversary of the WWI Battle of Vimy Ridge. They will also make stops along the WWII battle lands and an tour of McGregor’s brother’s grave site.
“We’re going through Amsterdam, through Paris and down to the beaches of Normandy, where we landed when we first went to Paris,” McGregor says he was 20 years old when he landed in Normandy, “I was 18 when I joined and 22 when I returned.” He and his two brothers fought in the war, which claimed one of his brother’s life. The veteran says he has returned twice since the war and toured Holland, where his brother is buried. “I haven’t been back to France. I’ve been to Holland. We went back for the 50th and 60th anniversary of the end of the war. I haven’t been back since.”
McGregor, who was born and raised in Bonnyville, is traveling thanks to the Bonnyville Legion. “I’m very thankful for the Bonnyville branch of the Canadian Legion, for sponsoring me to go; they’re sponsoring me 100 percent.” The Bonnyville Legion has 120-150 members and is a great organization, says McGregor, “you all should belong to it”. Mayor Sobolewski belongs to the Legion and over the years, has developed a friendship with McGregor.
McGregor explains it was a card game he shared with Mayor Sobolewski that spark talk of returning overseas, “he does a lot of talking about what he’s going to do and where he’s going,” laughs McGregor of the mayor, “I said, ‘I should go with you’. My son, Lloyd, and I are going”.
Mayor Sobolewski says it was the encouragement from McGregor that finally made him buy the plane tickets, “Carla and I had been planning this trip for about a year.” Sobolewski says he’s a war buff and wants to experience the lands first hand, “I want more experience with the war. My grandfather was a veteran from World War I. He was one of the vets that assaulted in Vimy Ridge. Essentially, I wanted to go back at the 100th Anniversary.” The mayor was telling Willie of his plans over a game of crib when the pair decided to go together. “The tour that we’re on is pretty much the same path that Willie was on.” Sobolewski says for years he’s been probing McGregor for stories, “I’ve been bugging him for years. It’s very fortunate that he’s able to go; the Canadian Government, Passports Canada and Veteran Affairs, were phenomenal in making sure he was able to go and making this happen.” The Bonnyville Legion is paying the costs on McGregor’s trip, “without question, at all,” says the mayor.
McGregor is the sole WWII veteran left in Bonnyville. There is another vet, George Lackerman, who resides in Edmonton. McGregor believes he’ll be the only veteran on the trip who had landed on the beaches of Normandy. McGregor is also the recipient of the Order of the Legion of France, the highest honour that a non-France resident can receive.
“We’re very proud of the service that Willie, and all of the veterans did for us in World War I & II. We’re going back and paying homage to all of them as well,” the Mayor of Bonnyville thanks Willie and all the veterans; as well as the military personnel serving Canada today.