It’s been 75 years since the end of the Second World War, and while the number of war vets still alive to mark Remembrance Day continues to dwindle, a handful of them are in Penticton.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 33,200 WWII veterans are still alive in Canada, including 7,500 in British Columbia.
The number of active case plans with Veterans Affairs in Penticton is 494, giving Penticton the highest concentration of living war vets being served by Veterans Affairs in the province.
At age 96, Penticton resident Frank Hildebrant is one of the few remaining WWII veterans living in Penticton.
When he was 19, Hildebrant shipped out with the rest of the Winnipeg Rifles for Holland. It was 1943, the middle of WWII.
“For two days we were just walking along and didn’t see any [Nazis] at all, and we were just checking the houses and stuff,” Hildebrant said.
Everything changed the next day.
“There were some tanks out there. One of them fired and I got hit,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything. I just grabbed my rifle and held it.”
Hildebrant was immediately put on a stretcher. The nearest jeep took him to a field hospital, where he spent the night, before being transferred to a hospital further from the front-lines.
Hildebrant joined the army in 1942, at the age of 18. He grew up in a very small town near Regina, Saskatchewan, and had a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Because of his job with the railway, Hildebrant didn’t have to join the army, but he didn’t realize his job was considered an essential service at the time. And, as he said himself: “Well, somebody had to go over there.”
Hildebrant was almost immediately sent overseas to Holland with the Winnipeg Rifles. After he was shot, Hildebrant spent three months in hospital before returning to his battalion to continue fighting in the war. To this day, 77 years later, he still has shrapnel in his chest from the incident.
When the war ended Hildebrant was sitting in a large hotel on the waterfront.
“There was a huge celebration with everyone in town,” he said.
Afterwards, Hildebrant was part of the occupational force in Germany for a year and a half. He left the army in 1947 and returned home, where he returned to his job with the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In 1952 he married Louise, whom he first met when he was 16. They had a daughter, and “a wonderful life” together.
Frank worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming an engineer with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Louise worked as a hairdresser and had jobs around the world, even working in New York City at one time.
Today, Hildebrant is 96 and continues to enjoy life at Cherry Park Retirement Residence in Penticton.