From D-Day, to the Rhine, to Korea: Roy Rushton

Seventy years ago, Roy Rushton peered through a hole in the floor of his vibrating aircraft as it swept over the Normandy coast. Just below, he saw German flak ripping the sky apart.

It didn’t look good; and Roy’s day was just beginning.

Rushton was heading into his first battle, in his first war. There would be more of each. Wherever Roy Rushton turned up, exciting, noisy, dangerous things always seemed to happen.

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Roy Rushton, as a sniper in Holland, January 1945 © Roy Rushton

It’s tough to imagine a soldier who’s been through more perilous moments than Roy Rushton. But he is neither a brooder; nor a gasbag. He’s a level-headed, laid-back fellow, with a wry sense of humour, but with no sense at all of self-importance. Quite the guy.

At 11 p.m. on the 5th of June, 1944, Rushton and ten other Paratroopers in that plane, watched England receding into the darkness behind them. Two hours later, they would be fighting for their lives. As members of the elite 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, they were  being dropped behind German lines, to help disrupt and distract the enemy until the main Allied invasion force hit the beaches at dawn. By 1 a.m., Rushton and his buddies leapt from their planes into the night, and were among the first allied soldiers to land in France on D-Day.

Canadian Para shoulder patch

Canadian Para shoulder patch

“We had to dodge enemy aircraft, and we got the rivers mixed up,” Rushton remembered to a local newspaper recently. “We ended up landing all over the place. Our Protestant padre’s parachute didn’t open.” The Germans quickly counterattacked with tanks. “We had no artillery, no tanks” he says. “But our commanding officer was able to contact a battleship out in the English Channel. The shells sounded just like a big freight train coming in. There was quite a bit of hand-to-hand fighting after that.” Within two months his battalion was down to almost half its men. But Rushton survived.

Canadian paratroops in northern France, 1944

Canadian paratroops in northern France, 1944

Next … on Christmas day, 1944, in dreadful winter weather, and in an operation normally thought of as exclusively American, Roy and his Canadian Parachute Battalion were rushed into the line in ferocious combat in the Battle of the  Bulge in the Ardennes.

Next … three months later, Roy dropped from the sky, again, along with 16,000 other paratroopers, across the Rhine into Germany itself.

The drop across the Rhine

The drop across the Rhine

It was the largest airdrop in history. Within a half hour of being on the ground, he was hit in the thigh by a Nazi sniper. Roy’s war was over … this one at least.

Next … as if all this was not enough, restless after he returned home to peanut-sized Salt Spring, Nova Scotia, in 1950  he went off  to join the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (the soon-to-be famous 2PPCLI of Kapyong), a new special all-volunteer unit created to be Canada’s first combat force in the Korean War.

Roy Ruston, his next war ... Korea, 1951

Roy Ruston, his next war … Korea, 1951/ © Roy Rushton

Roy fought with great distinction in a series of savage hill battles. During one such attack, on Hill 419, with his platoon lieutenant wounded, Roy — a corporal —  took the officer’s weapon, binoculars and field message book, and pressed on, leading the attack himself. Casualties mounted and the assault was finally abandoned. Years after the war, Roy discovered the lieutenant had survived his wounds, and Rushton returned his field book … complete with two bullet holes and blood stains.

Roy’s amazing life as a fighting soldier came to an end in late 1951 when he was deemed no  longer medically fit to serve in combat, was given a medical discharge and send home. Today he lives in an apartment with his wife Margaret (and their pet  chihuahua) in  Pictou County, Nove Scotia, where they first met over 60 years ago, at a local dance.

rushton

Roy and Margaret Rushton, 2013, Pictou Nova Scotia (Halifax Chronicle Herald)

Rushton’s been back to Normandy several times, but at 96, bad hearing and arthritis kept him from the 70th anniversary this past D-day. He followed the ceremonies on television. His memories are still out there, among the deadly Normandy hedgerows.

The French remember all this, incidentally. The French government has sent him a letter saying it will give him a Croix de Guerre … a  Thank You, for helping liberate their country from the Nazis.

And that German sniper’s bullet? “It’s still in there,” he jokes. Quite the guy.

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About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at: danbjarnason@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Canadian Army, korean war, military history, PPCLI and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to From D-Day, to the Rhine, to Korea: Roy Rushton

  1. Pingback: Article Honors Canadian World War II and Korean War Hero | ROK Drop

  2. Great story, really shows the stamina and integrity of these great servicemen.
    Ian

  3. It’s so important to tell these stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things…it’s not about glorifying war but about a glimpse of the human side… beyond the pompous ceremonies. Thank you.

  4. Rosh says:

    Reblogged this on Rose of Sharon Healing and commented:
    Roy’s amazing life. I love our veterans! I’m proud of you and thank you so much for your sacrifice. Roy fought two wars and still has a bullet in his leg to remember it by. He’s 96 and lives with his wife in Nova Scotia. God bless you Roy!

  5. authorjim says:

    Fantastic!! Men like this are the reason North America has always come out on top. I wish, oh how I wish, we could someday find a way to maintain what these men gave so much to achieve.

  6. I’m singing Ce by Poulenc at the moment and came over to your blog to remind myself of the stories and experiences to try to get the emotion right, it’s difficult for someone of my age to appreciate what it must have been like to live in a Country under occupation.

  7. Karen Evans says:

    A remarkable commitment to one’s country and values. Roy’s valor is reminiscent of so many veterans..

  8. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    great story about a war hero

  9. paywindow7 says:

    It always seemed to me that it takes a special kind of courage to look out the aircraft’s door into midnight blackness knowing that thousands of 50 and 30 caliber bullets were waiting for you and still jump. Roy Rushton is an exceptional man and warrior.

  10. gpcox says:

    Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
    A great war post from Dan Bjarnason.

  11. crfredericks says:

    Very inspiring, these aged and dignified warriors grow old and I wonder if sometimes those horrific battle enraged days don’t seem like a dream.
    Dan, a couple times in my research (maybe your stuff) I came across mention of Chiang Kai Shek and his offer of 35 000 troops to fight the socialists. Why was this offer declined?

  12. gpcox says:

    You were right, Dan. .. This is a great post about one tough individual! Fights in Europe and ends up volunteering for the Princess Pat’s!!! Remarkable.

  13. Brian Denike says:

    Nice piece Dan

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