Emerson Barden, a former Canadian Army medic, has been awarded the French Legion of Honour for helping free the country during the Second World War.
Barden, 92, received the medal from French consul-general Jean-Christophe Fleury Dec. 23 at a ceremony held at the Cloverdale Legion, where he was surrounded by family, fellow Legion members, friends, and a sizeable contingent of paramedics.
The National Order of the Legion of Honour is France’s highest decoration, equivalent to the Order of Canada.
The French government has attempted to honour all living Canadian soldiers who fought during D-Day to help liberate France and defeat Nazi Germany.
Bardem has been granted the distinction of Chevalier, or Knight. The badge, worn on the left breast, is a white, five point (Maltese) cross with a laurel wreath, suspended from a red ribbon.
Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, where Allied forces began their campaign to liberate Europe. The invasion by water was the turning point of the war for the Allies.
To commemorate the anniversary, the French government is recognizing living Canadian veterans who participated in the D-Day operation – some 1,000 by the end of 2016, Fleury said, bearing a message from a country that remains grateful to their liberators.
“Canadian soldiers were on the front line and [it was] with extraordinary bravery and sacrifice that they landed on Normandy beaches and brought peace to the continent,” Fleury said, noting 45,000 Canadians were killed during the Second World War.
“As a young man, Emerson, you left your family and home to cross the Atlantic and participate in some of the fiercest battles in modern history,” he said, “on foreign soil, far away from your country to help the people of Europe free themselves from terror and tyranny.”
He said Barden’s service during the war provides a lasting reminder of the “profound and historic friendship that binds France and Canada,” which owe each other their existence and share a special relationship.
“The French people will never forget the act of bravery [by] Canadian soldiers during the Normandy landings to help restore our freedom,” Fleury said in a speech that quoted the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights – and drew parallels between the tyranny of occupation during the Second World War with contemporary events.
Fleury referenced the 200 people killed in the Paris terror attacks just seven weeks ago, saying, “Sadly, this fight is not over.”
He added the country is grateful for support shown to France by such leaders as B.C. premier Christy Clark, who wrote that France “has been a beacon of light and example for the world,” saying in a statement all Canadians and British Columbians “stand with them, both in grief for those who were killed, but also in resolve.”
Barden was profiled as part of The Reporter’s Remembrance Day coverage of local veterans (“Memories Linger: It Never Leaves You,” Nov. 4). He signed up at 19, served in the Canadian Army from 1942 to ‘46, serving in Alaska and Europe.
His late wife, Patricia, served in the RCAF (1942-48). They married in 1948, and four children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The pair were tireless canvassers for the annual Poppy campaign on behalf of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 6 (Cloverdale).
Barden’s four children attended the Legion d’honneur ceremony, along with his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“We are all very proud of him,” said grandson Brett Barden of Surrey.
Dignitaries included BC Ambulance Service Paramedics in ceremonial uniform, Royal Canadian Legion representatives from BC-Yukon Command and the Peace Arch Zone, MP John Aldag (Cloverdale-Langley City), MLA Stephanie Cadieux (Surrey-Cloverdale), who both declined to speak, and Surrey Coun. Dave Woods, who was there on behalf of Mayor Linda Hepner and Surrey city council.
Woods said he was proud of all of Surrey’s veterans, and pointed out there’s always a large turnout to the city’s Remembrance Day services, which draw larger numbers with each passing year.
“I really appreciate that your country has taken the time to recognize not only our citizens but I’m sure other citizens from other Allies,” Woods continued, addressing Fleury.
“I just want you to know that I’m confident Canada will stand with France, in the past and in the future.”