On the morning of June 6, 95-year-old Russ Kaye stepped down onto Juno Beach, surrounded by family members and new friends – who were part of the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride.
It was the first time he returned to the beach since landing there as a 20-year-old gunner with the 43rd Battery E Troop 12th Field Regiment during the Operation Overlord on D-Day 75 years earlier, and the 130 cyclists from across Canada shared handshakes and hugs with Kaye during this special moment.
With this year’s Battlefield Bike Ride, Wounded Warriors Canada was able to bring Kaye, who is from Riverview, N.B., to Juno Beach with a group of cyclists. The group included his son, Chris Kaye, who is also a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, as well as cyclists who hail from B.C. to Newfoundland and everywhere in between, including this writer.
Standing on Juno Beach with Russ Kaye is a moment I won’t ever forget.
It was an emotional and unbelievable way to end our seven-day, 600-kilometre bike ride through Normandy, a journey that was filled with many unforgettable moments, as we cycled from Dieppe to the village of Bernières-sur-Mer, where we all gathered on the beach in front of Canada House, one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day.
The Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR19) began May 31 with a visit to the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, and the ride took us along country roads and through small towns from Dieppe to Rouen, to Deauville on the coast and then to Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, near Omaha Beach, where the Americans landed on D-Day. Between May 31 and June 6, the group visited the Merville Gun Battery; Pegasus Bridge; the Abbaye d’Ardenne, where Canadian prisoners of war were executed by the Germans; the 172.5-acre Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial; Omaha Beach; the Longues-sur-Mer German Battery; Canada House at Juno Beach, which was the first house liberated by Canadians on June 6, 1944; and the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, where most of the Canadians who died on D-Day are buried.
Throughout the ride, as we visited these significant sites, we learned about the important history of all these places and often held a service to remember and honour the sacrifices of all those who served there. Taking the time to remember Canadians’ service and sacrifice, and to honour those who died is such an important part of these Battlefield Bike Rides. I feel very fortunate I had the chance to be part of these services and to step foot where so many Canadians did so much.
A big part of these rides is also looking at the present and the future by supporting serving Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and first responders. The Battlefield Bike Ride is the largest fundraiser for Wounded Warriors Canada each year, generally raising around $400,000 for mental health programs for Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, first responders and their families who are affected by Operational Stress Injuries. This year’s ride has raised over $650,000. Many of the cyclists who take part in the ride year after year have gone through one or more of the programs delivered by Wounded Warriors Canada, and it is so powerful to hear about how much these programs have helped them and their families.
The Battlefield Bike Ride is an event designed through the lens of Wounded Warriors Canada’s guiding ethos: Honour the fallen and help the living.
To date, more than 500 cyclists have participated in the events, collectively raising over $2.5 million in support of national mental health programs and services benefiting ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and first responders and their families across Canada.
Each year, the group of cyclists includes serving and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans, active and retired first responders and civilians from across the country.
I am so grateful to everyone in the community who helped me reach my $4,000 fundraising minimum so I could contribute to this important fundraiser. Thank you.