Judy Assoon remembers her family sitting around the dinner table as she and her brother begged their father to tell them one of his favourite war stories.
On a mission where he had to bring planes back from England to Canada, John MacCormac, a British pilot, thought it would be amusing to give the civilians a bit of a scare. Instead of flying high above a bridge in Montreal, he decided to go under the bridge.
“Oh, he got called in for that one,” said Assoon, now 71, her eyes watering from laughter. “But they were just little boys fighting this war, most under 30, they still had lots of time to grow. So they would find ways to get into mischief like that. We loved that story.”
At the age of 99, just three months shy of 100, MacCormac passed away last month following a bout of pneumonia. He was possibly the oldest World War II veteran living in Richmond.
He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and because of his skill was soon promoted to train pilots, stationed first in northern Saskatchewan.
At the age of two, Assoon and her family crossed the Atlantic as part of a convoy to settle in Canada, while her father took his first station at North Battleford. Surrounded by combat, one boat went down out of the four.
Like many veterans, MacCormac, awarded the Air Force Cross, talked little about his experiences during the war, seeing it as a job that needed to be done. “They did the job, then moved on,” said Assoon. “But he’d regale us with the more amusing stories. There was one time when Aussie officers weren’t happy with their quarters on the base, so they began to break the windows. Well, Dad didn’t stand for that. He made them measure the windows, go into town and buy some new ones before they were fed.”
As a trainer and pilot, MacCormac didn’t see too much of the on-the-ground horrors, but Assoon remembers times he would come back shaken up after losing a colleague or best friend.
This Sunday, she plans to continue the tradition she had with her parents, though both are now deceased, honouring those who served the country during war. They would go to the ceremony in Richmond and then for lunch.
However, Assoon wasn’t always as supportive of Remembrance Day ceremonies as she is now. As a self-described “peacenik” in the ’70s, each ceremony brought feelings of discomfort, as she believed it glorified the war.
It wasn’t until she was a high school counsellor at Steveston-London secondary and watched her two sons attend school ceremonies that she realized what the day was really about.
“I was just uninformed back then,” said Assoon. “It’s really about honouring and respecting the sacrifice of these young, young people during this horrific war. It’s about educating us and helping us prevent past mistakes.”
By the end of the war, MacCormac was acting commanding officer in Ontario and presented the last pair of wings under the Commonwealth Air Training Program. His family then settled in western Canada, and in Richmond since the late 1960s.
To Assoon, he taught her most about the value of family. The skilled bridge player dedicated himself to them, not wanting to “hang around old people who made him feel old, but to hang around family who made him feel loved.”
“He was solid, strong and generous, a true patriarch,” said Assoon. “We wouldn’t have dinner until we were all together, so we’re feeling a little lost without our rudder.”