MONTREAL —; For as long as he can remember, Pierre L’Heureux has loved the sea.
As a child, he remembers marveling at the ships sailing down the Saint Lawrence River.
So, when the war broke out in 1939, L’Heureux decided to join the navy.
“My inside said to me, look, why don’t you go,” the 93-year-old told Global News Thursday.
“It’s war and if everyone stays home, it’s going to be a long war, right?”
L’Heureux was trained as a coder, stationed in Halifax before being deployed overseas in 1941.
He still remembers the day when he was told he’d take part in the invasion of Normandy.
“There was a priest there,” said L’Heureux.
“He said ‘come on, come on, come on, let’s get together. Now listen,’ he said, ‘it might be your last time if you want go to confession and pray to God. You might never come back.’”
On June 6, 1944, aboard the HMCS Algonquin, L’Heureux took part in Operation Overlord —; the code name for D-Day, which led to the liberation of France.
“I don’t know how we are in hell, but that was more than hell,” said L’Heureux.
Nothing could have prepared the then-19-year-old for the horrors that would follow.
“I saw men on the ocean with their lifebelts,” he told Global News.
“They were dead, they were dead. All you could see was their lifebelt and they had their head in the water and their feet in the water. It did something to me when I saw that.”
L’Heureux lost many companions in the war, including his best friend, Maurice, who was serving on a neighbouring minesweeper.
WATCH BELOW: Global’s Sarah Volstad meets Pierre L’Heureux, a World War II veteran who is being given with the Legion of Honour to commemorate his contribution in the invasion of Normandy.
He still remembers the last time they saw each other in March 1945, when L’Heureux got permission from his captain to visit Maurice.
“He read to me a letter that he had received from my sister saying that they were in love,” said L’Heureux.
“They knew each other before and he showed that to me. I said ‘my Maurice! I was surprised of that.’”
Not long after that encounter, Maurice’s ship was torpedoed.
“He was hanging on the boat, on the raft boat and they had to let him go because he was too injured and they were not allowed to have more than 15 [people] on the raft boat,” recounted L’Heureux.
“They took everything he had in his pockets to bring back to shore. They took Maurice’s hands and they let him go in the ocean. He went like that.”
Over 100,000 people served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.
L’Heureux was one of the lucky ones who returned home.
“It was terrifying,” he said.
“I was afraid, really, really, I was afraid, but in the action, you don’t think of that because you have the guts and the nerves and you say ‘look, if I can, I’m going to save my life.’”
After the war, life went on for L’Heureux.
He married and had three children, then grandchildren and now, even a great grandchild.
“We love, so much, each other,” he said.
“We often call each other and we say ‘I love you.’”
These small gestures are important to L’Heureux, who knows only too well how short life can be.
Friday, he and two other veterans will receive the Legion of Honour, the highest French order awarded to soldiers and civilians.