PO1 connects with family history during Italian campaign commemorations
By Ryan Melanson,
A CFB Halifax member says her recent Operation DISTINCTION deployment to Italy inspired her to learn more about her grandfather’s Second World War service, leading to a memorable experience for her and her family.
PO1 Deanne Vigneault served as a Flag Party Commander during Op DISTINCTION events marking the 75th anniversary of the Italian campaign, as part of a Canadian contingent that included 15 Second World War veterans of the campaign, along with more than 180 currently serving CAF members. The Canadians attended and participated in a number of different ceremonies at war cemeteries and other locations across the country from November 28 to December 4, marking the anniversary of the end of the 20-month campaign, and honouring the thousands of Canadians who fought and died in the effort to liberate the country from German forces.
PO1 Vigneault’s grandfather, Sgt Isaac Joseph Vigneault, joined the Army in 1939 and was deployed from July 1943 through to the end of the war with the 5th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, before returning to Nova Scotia to being a career in the fisheries industry. While she was aware of the family history, PO1 Vigneault said being nominated for the ceremonial trip led to her diving deeper into his story.
“I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about my grandfather’s service or his experiences when I first joined. That became a very positive aspect of this whole experience for me, taking the time to learn things about my family history that I didn’t know before.”
Her grandfather died in 1988, but through talking with family and looking at what was available from his war logs, she confirmed that he did serve in Italy, France, Belgium and elsewhere, and also uncovered other tidbits – like the fact he departed for overseas service just 10 days after his wedding, getting the news while still on honeymoon. She was also able to find photos of his time in service as well as his medals, including his Italian campaign medal, the Italy Star.
Refreshing her knowledge on the family connection to the Second World War, and the Italian campaign in particular, made the deployment more personally significant. PO1 Vigneault noted she was already honoured to represent the CAF on parade and commemorate those who served and died – being able to do so while retracing some of her grandfather’s steps made for a special experience.
“I was able to walk where he walked, and where he fought, in these different towns and cities that we visited, which was very moving for me,” she said.
“It was even more exciting for some members of my family; it really meant a lot to them that I was able to be there.”
She added that Canadian contingent felt very welcome throughout their time in Italy, with locals chatting about their appreciation for Canada’s role 75 years ago, and plenty of school children and others clamouring for photos with the Canadian flag parties.
About 93,000 Canadians in total contributed to the Italian campaign, with 26,000 casualties and more than 6,000 losing their lives. They were commemorated at ceremonies at the Agira, Cassino and Ravenna war cemeteries, at the Canadian Heroes Square in Ortona, and elsewhere.
“It was a very humbling and eye-opening experience. I’m proud to have been a part of it,” PO1 Vigneault said.