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Local Second World War vet dies at 93
KITCHENER — One of the few remaining Second World War veterans in Waterloo Region has died at age 93.
|Consul General of France Jean-François Casabonne Masonnave presents the Legion of Honour to Ken Gawthorn in Hamilton in 2014. - Kaz Novak,The Hamilton Spectator |
Ken Gawthorn, who spent much of his life in Kitchener, won five medals in the Second World War and another five in the Korean War.
In 2014, he received France's highest national order for his service in liberating the country following D-Day in 1944.
"He was a pretty amazing guy," his son, also named Ken, said in an interview on Saturday.
Gawthorn, who died on Wednesday, was so eager to enlist, he lied about his age.
"I was only 16-and-a-half but I told them I was 19," he told The Record in 1994. "I grew up in a hell of a hurry."
The former member of the Hamilton-based Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was presented with France's Legion of Honour three years ago in Hamilton.
"It's his favourite medal," his son said. "That's what he said. He was pretty proud."
Gawthorn, who landed in France in July 1944, took part in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, an encirclement of the German army by Canadian, British, American and Polish forces. It trapped 50,000 German soldiers and is seen as the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy.
He also helped liberate cities and towns in Belgium.
Gawthorn was wounded by shrapnel twice, once in France and once on the border of Belgium and Holland.
"One of the fellows stepped on a mine with his heel and I got hit with all the cinders and shrapnel," he recalled. "I was picking pieces of cinders out of my head for years afterward but I never left the battle that time."
He was discharged in 1946 and about 3½ years later re-enlisted to fight in the Korean War.
"I thought they needed me," Gawthorn said with a grin. "I was 26 then and some people said I was crazy."
He fought in the Korean War for a year and discovered it was a totally different type of warfare than the European campaigns. He was discharged in 1952.
Gawthorn didn't tell family members much about his war years.
"He never told me anything he didn't want me to hear," his son said. "I only heard the good stuff, right."
"I don't think many soldiers talk about the war," said Gawthorn's sister-in-law, Dianne Hause.
In 1953, Gawthorn was chosen to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and was presented with the Coronation Medal at Buckingham Palace.
He returned to Belgium in 1994 to participate in ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the country's liberation. He was one of 25 Second World War veterans chosen by their regimental associations to attend.
Gawthorn went on to become the first regimental sergeant major of the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Kitchener.
He gave back to the community with countless volunteer hours and was named Kitchener's citizen of the year in 1999 for his work with seniors and caregiving.
"He would do anything for anybody, whether he knew you or not," Hause said.
His son, who lives in St. Clements, joined the army in 1966.
"I did a three-year stint and then I got out. I'm not the army guy like my dad. I did my time and that was it for me."
Gawthorn lived in Kitchener and St. Clements before moving to a St. Jacobs retirement home. His funeral is set for Sept. 22 in Kitchener.
His son is unsure whether any Second World War vets will attend.
"I don't know if there's any still alive that he knows, but the Korean vets will probably be there."
As of March 2016, there were just 61,300 Canadian veterans of the Second World War still alive, down from 75,900 in 2014.
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