Francis William Godon 1924-2019 Métis D-Day veteran passes 75 years after harrowing experience at Juno Beach

Article / February 26, 2019 / Project number: 19-0058

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By Jules Xavier, Shilo Stag

Boissevain, Manitoba — D-Day veteran and Métis soldier Francis Godon was laid to rest on the frigid winter afternoon of January 19, 2019 in his southern Manitoba community near the North Dakota border. He was 94.

Birds softly chirped in nearby sun-soaked trees while family and friends gathered around his wooden coffin, a handful of poppies sprinkled on the top.

The quiet scene at the cemetery in Boissevain was in stark contrast to Mr. Godon’s D-Day experience, which began almost 75 years ago when his landing craft reached the shores of Juno Beach in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.

Just after 7 a.m., Mr. Godon, then a Corporal with The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, was running full out, often falling to a crawl to avoid heavy German machine gun fire and mortar rounds on Juno Beach.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you were not scared. You were scared,” he told Veterans Voices of Canada (VVOC) in 2014. “On the beach, you had to go for yourself, which is hard to do when your buddies are crying out. You had to keep going. You had to stay alive [to continue the mission.]”

“Crawl and run and crawl and run,” he told an interviewer for the Memory Project about his Juno Beach experience. “You had to keep going. If you stopped, well, you were a dead duck, too. So you had to keep going. Which was a hard thing to do because the beach was something like ketchup – that’s how blood red the beach was.”

Three-quarters of a century did not dull the memories

More than seven decades after experiencing Juno Beach, Mr. Godon said he never forgot the sounds of war, the memory of crying comrades scattered across the beach with grotesque wounds, or being struck by flying body parts.

Mr. Godon’s objective was to move forward and take out any German pillboxes that had escaped the pounding they had received from warships out in the English Channel prior to troops landing. The beach was defended by two German battalions.

In another interview with the VVOC, Mr. Godon recalled a pep talk from an officer prior to the beach landing.

“So he said, ‘Just go do your job. Do the best you can. You are all trained. You know your job, so give ’em hell.’”

1924 to 2019 – Rest in Peace

Mr. Godon , a father of three was predeceased by his wife, Jane, in 2014.

Born on August 19, 1924 in Dunseith, North Dakota, Mr. Godon was five years old when his father relocated the family by wagon to southern Manitoba from the Turtle Mountain region of North Dakota.

As a youth, he learned the ways of the Métis from his father – living off the land by hunting, fishing, trapping and farming. Some of those skills helped him survive after being taken as a prisoner of war (POW) by the Germans four days into the D-Day invasion.

Enlisted to ‘fix Hitler’

Mr. Godon did not find it easy to enlist. By the age of 17, he had been rejected three times.

In a documentary produced when he was in his 80s by the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) and CTV, Mr. Godon said recruiters dismissed his application at various times because he was flatfooted, born in the U.S.A., had no formal education and spoke broken English.

His persistence finally paid off when, as directed by recruiters, he successfully enlisted by identifying as French Canadian and not Métis.

He told an interviewer, “I was going there to fix Hitler,” as his reason to enlist alongside other Canadians.

From kitchen duty to rifleman and anti-tank gunner

Sent to North Bay, Ontario for his initial training, and to be part of the Lake Superior Scottish, Mr. Godon was assigned to kitchen duty. It was not until he went on a long army march, after asking his orderly sergeant for the opportunity, did he finally receive a uniform and take up a rifle instead of a potato peeler.

He was sent to Canadian Forces Base Shilo for further army training. He switched to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, then was sent to Nova Scotia to finalize training prior to being shipped overseas. Besides honing infantry skills at CFB Shilo, he also was schooled in the operation of a “six-pounder” anti-tank gun. He was No. 1 on a six-man crew.

Before embarking on the voyage across the Atlantic, Mr. Godon promised his mother he would return home from the war, a promise he kept despite the horrors of June 6 and his subsequent 11-month experience as a POW.

Reported missing in action, then presumed dead

Recalling his capture, Mr. Godon said, “There were machine guns shooting at us, and we couldn’t get up. First thing I know, there was my lieutenant, waving the white flag. What could we do? [The Germans] said ‘for you the war is over.’”

Mr. Godon’s family back in southern Manitoba were first told he was missing in action. He was later listed as presumed dead. Tracing him was difficult because the Germans hid the POWs from the Red Cross.

As a POW, Mr. Godon said he kept a brave face in front of his captors, and drew on his promise to his mother that he would return home for strength.

He recalled a 21-day forced march and sleeping in graveyards. Escape was not an option.

“If you had one escape, [the Germans] would kill 10 of your buddies,” he said in a VVOC interview.

Dropped 92 pounds as POW

Put to work in labour camps, Mr. Godon helped dig water and sewage lines. He also did farm labour, working in sugar beet and potato fields. And, despite being fed “slop” by the Germans, he learned you did not try to eat raw potatoes in the field.

“If you did, they shot you,” he recalled.

In the APTN/CTV documentary, Mr. Godon recalled how, following his 11 months of captivity, his weight had dropped to 120 pounds from 212 by the time he was liberated by American troops.

Life for the young soldier was never the same after he returned to Canadian soil. He fought for his pension for 21 years before finally receiving it. He credited his son, Frank, with helping “smarten me up” after he began to rely on alcohol to drown out the war memories.

“We were not the same anymore,” he said of his war experience. “We were half animal, half human.”

Returned to Juno Beach in 2003

Reflecting on his time overseas fighting alongside 22,000 other men who landed at Juno Beach, Godon said, “To look back, we did something.”

This was evident when he returned to France in 2003. Remarkably, he was able to wear his original uniform with pride.

“I saw what we had done,” he said with satisfaction of a beach now featuring young families and children playing on the shoreline, instead of fallen soldiers on the bloody beach as it was in 1944.

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