A Race to Chronicle the Memories of WWII Veterans

It is not every day that you meet a Grade 11 student on a quest to interview as many war veterans as possible while they are still living and able to share memories of serving their country during WWII.

That is exactly what Jaxon Hekkenberg ’23 has set about doing for the past six months as a lead up to Remembrance Day. He has received more than 80 handwritten notes from veterans in the U.S. and Canada, and volunteers at a Senior Home near his home in Barrie as well. That is where he met Ken Atkinson, a 97-year-old Barrie resident who was a Bomber Command Air Gunner for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during WWII.
Mr. Atkinson instilled a sense of urgency in Jaxon when he told him there wouldn’t be many Bomber Command Pilots left by 2030-35. Jaxon has been on a mission to chronicle their history ever since.

WATCH JAXON'S VIDEO HERE
 
He has since reached out to Veteran organizations and Legions across the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland thereby contacting close to 3000 individual organizations. When they share actual names and addresses with him, Jaxon follows up with personalized notes. In turn, he has received many replies and small parcels from these veterans willing to share their memories of actual combat or combat training.
 
One Veteran he corresponded with recently, praised him for expressing a genuine interest in learning more about the recent Eastern Iowa Honor Flight to Washington, DC. “You are No. 1” on my list. Thank you for your courtesy!” wrote Mr. DeWillis, who never saw live combat but was trained as a radio-radar operator.
 
A keen listener with an excellent memory, Jaxon remembers hearing stories of WWII from both his maternal and paternal grandparents. His maternal grandfather was born in Germany because he was displaced during the war, and his maternal grandmother was born in Poland. His paternal grandparents were from the Netherlands. Jaxon feels it is important to note, that while neither side of his family was persecuted or saw action, they witnessed many horrible atrocities of the war and its aftermath.
 
“Not many people realize how affected families were by the war,” Jaxon explains. “My grandparents helped me realize how it wasn’t just in Europe, but here in Canada too. Everyone needed to do something to help.”
 
Last month, Jaxon approached Mr. Young, Head of the Social Sciences Department, with the idea to create a video of some of his favourite interviews to share at the Remembrance Day Assembly. One of the speakers he interviewed is D-Day veteran, Jim Parks, a former rifleman with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Jaxon believed this would be of particular interest to his fellow students since the D-Day invasions changed the course of WWII and are often featured in war films.
 
He also features a Hong Kong veteran (one of the 1,975 Canadians who sailed to Hong Kong in 1941 to assist the British in defending the colony against the Japanese invasion); a Battle of Monte Cassino Artillery Officer; and a veteran from the 45th Division 157th Infantry Regiment (also known as the Thunderbirds), who was one of the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp and saw over 500 days of combat and endured four invasions.
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13415 Dufferin Street King, Ontario L7B 1K5
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Founded in 1972, The Country Day School is a co-educational private school offering programs in JK-12 and located on 100 acres north of Toronto in King.