He's always putting me on to movies I've missed, usually bringing 2 or 3 from his massive collection down with him for us to watch. Often buying me one he thinks I particularly would like or need to have.
This time, he didn't bring any movies with him. Unless you count the entire six seasons of Get Smart on DVD which he bought down here and now brings back on every visit. He only watches it down here. It's kind of cool, reliving a piece of your childhood that way.
But the first night he was here, he asked if I had ever watched "Band of Brothers" on HBO. No, I hadn't but I had often seen it in the Guide. I really should watch it, he said, it was excellent. The following morning what was on TV but the entire Band of Brothers series, starting with the very first episode.
He convinced me that I could run my few errands the following day, that today this is what we would do. Unfortunately, the phone kept ringing. Then a friend came to the door. I kept returning to the show but after a few hours, I commented that although I was still following the story I had missed enough to still not really know who all the characters were.
Shortly thereafter, I apparently having missed something my brother considered significant, something that I had to see so I could understand and appreciate something that would come later, he proclaimed that he was hungry. We should turn off the TV and go out for lunch. No, really. That's what we should do.
I was a little perturbed. After all, he was the one who had wanted me to watch this, convinced me to give up the day for it and then here I was being essentially told that I couldn't watch the rest of it.
But we went out for lunch. And later, while I ran some errands he stopped in at the Future Shop. Nothing new there, it's one of his favourite places to browse, so I didn't think much of it. When we returned home, he handed me the DVD set of Band of Brothers. "Gee, thanks, but you didn't have to do that." "I know but now you will be able to watch the whole thing."
We started with where we had left off and made it through Part VI before he left, leaving me with four parts left to watch. But as I listened to talk about D-Day, Normandy and the assault on the beaches that would be going on at the same time as Easy Company went about their mission, I turned to my brother and commented on the Canadians at Juno Beach.
And I must admit that it was nice to finally (for once) have knowledge of something that he was a little more fuzzy on - he wasn't entirely sure of the Canadian soldiers involvement in D-Day.
It was about 2:30 p.m. when Westhaver, Westie to his buddies, landed on Juno Beach for an allied invasion that was the beginning of the end for the German forces pummelling Europe.It's hard to comprehend, to get your head around, what it must have been like for those young men, for those boys. In fact, I think it's a lot easier not to even try.
He’d joined the army in May 1942, flew to England in August of that year and trained for six or seven months to become a wireless operator with the Army Signal Corps. He and his fellow servicemen spent months more practising for battle on the beaches of Wales, "almost like a rehearsal for a show."
But no amount of training prepared the young men, many just 21 or 22, for what they encountered on that strip of Normandy sand.
WADING THROUGH BODIES
Sailing over the English Channel to get there, Westhaver huddled with British commandoes, who sharpened their knives for battle.
"But there wasn’t much talk," he says. "I think they were all like me because we had never been in action before so we didn’t really know what to expect."
The then-21-year-old spent his first few moments of action wading through bodies.
"The water was up around my shoulders . . . and here the water was full of dead Canadians floating by with their heads down and you could see Canada on their shoulder. . . . So I had to push these guys out of the way to get into the beach," he recalls.
"There were dead bodies everywhere, laying on the beach and everything. So I’m running up the beach — and I’ve thought about this many times — all of a sudden I see an airplane coming.
"Now I used to build airplanes when I was a kid, I was always interested in airplanes. This airplane had two engines, two motors and all of a sudden sparks started coming out of the wings and I’m looking at it . . . coming at me. And all of a sudden it dawned on me, ‘He’s firing at us.’
"This was a German, this was a German airplane so . . . there was a hole there and I ran and jumped in the hole. I landed on top of a dead Canadian."
He shakes his head, but like he did that day, he keeps going.
"As soon as the aircraft went over you could hear the guns going . . . but it was a very confusing day because there were bullets flying everywhere. . . . You’d hear them over your head and the Canadian Navy, they were firing over our heads into the German lines . . . and you could hear these great big shells going over your head — whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa — and I used to think, ‘Oh my God, let’s hope that they keep going.’ "
This dangerous chaos is what D-Day veterans of many stripes have described over the years.
But fewer of them are around these days to talk about the horror and heroism.
Nova Scotia vets Earl Gouchie and Irving Cromwell, now gone, lived the horror then and — off and on — for the remainder of their days.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of D-Day six years ago, Gouchie, a former sniper, could still smell the blood of his fallen comrades, hear the rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire and feel the artillery shells groan.
Cromwell, his hand still trembling from the "shell shock" of a long gone war, recalled a fear frozen in time — as if he still stood on that beach, on that day, as the bombs and soldiers fell.
And yet, be that as it may, we owe them at least that much, don't you think?
I'm going back to watch some more of Band of Brothers. It's the least I could do.