By Lachlan Labere, Black Press
On June 6, 1944, Canadian infantryman Frank Zantolas was among the allied forces involved in the invasion of German-occupied France. Zantolas and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division stormed Juno Beach in Operation Neptune, where allied soldiers, approximately 14,000 of whom were Canadian, took part on one of the largest amphibious military invasions to date as part of the overarching “Operation Overlord,” more commonly referred to as D-Day.
Seventy-years later, for his role in that fierce but, ultimately successful invasion, Zantolas is to be awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.
France’s Legion of Honour, similar in importance to Canada’s Victory Cross, is awarded “for bravery and merit without regard to rank.”
“This distinction illustrates the profound gratitude that France would like to express to you,” states a French government release. “It is awarded in recognition of your professional involvement in the liberation of our country.
“Through you, France remembers the sacrifice of all your compatriots who came to liberate French soil, often losing their lives in the process.”
Zantolas, now 91, currently resides in the Lower Mainland. When contacted by the Times Review, he said he wasn’t aware of when the ceremony for the award would be taking place, but it will be happening at the North Vancouver Legion Branch #118. As for the honour itself, Zantolas had little to say, noting many years have passed since that harrowing event, in which an estimated 1,200 troops lost their lives.
In an Oct. 2009 interview with the Vancouver Province, Zantolas described the June 6 invasion as a kind of organized chaos.
“Everyone had orders and they were doing what they had to do – I can see it now – but that day it seemed like quite the shemozzle.”
Navigating upland from British landing craft through a barrage of enemy fire, Zantolas said you hit the ground running and didn’t stop – despite what was going on around you.
“You ran down the ramp and into the water and slugged up onto the beach with machine-gun fire all around you, and saw men getting hit and falling and yelling. You ran past the bodies,” said Zantolas.
In his youth, Zantolas attended high school in Revelstoke. Other Revelstoke High School alumni who fought for Canada in the D-Day invasion include Robert Bruce, Archie McLaren and “Bugsy” Nelson.