Jody Perrun never got to meet his grandfather.
Canadian Trooper John Clifford Brown died on Aug. 7, 1944. Stationed in France, he and 65 others were killed when American bombers misidentified their targets, dropping their bombs on a group of mostly Canadian soldiers. 250 soldiers were also wounded.
Growing up, Perrun heard stories of his how his grandfather went overseas to fight in WWII.
“My mom would tell stories about being a little girl, watching the newsreel footage… she would scan the screen to see if maybe she might catch a glimpse of her dad,” Perrun said.
Perrun’s mother Carol was just three years old when her father died. She met him just once, when she was a few months old. Her mother travelled from Manitoba to Ontario, where Brown was in military training.
“We have one set of photos, where they are together, she’s a baby, he’s holding her,” said Perrun, “and that was it.”
His death, Perrun says, left a hole in the family felt generations down the line.
“What happened? What went wrong?’ Perrun said.
Perrun looked into just that, pursuing a Master’s degree in history at Carleton University. Inspired by his family history, his wrote his thesis on Operation Totalize. It was through this research that Perrun pieced together exactly where his grandfather had died.
Perrun found a copy of a situation report written by a witness to the bombings.
“We heard the bombers going toward enemy just as we started lunch,” it reads.
“Suddenly they opened bomb doors (there were 12 of them) and down came the bombs, and the rolling thunderclaps were all around us and lasted for about four minutes, and it felt like 1 1/2 hours.”
The situation report referenced a map grid, which Perrun discovered corresponded with a map he’d located of the area near Carmelles, France. With these two documents, Perrun was able to pinpoint the exact area where his grandfather had been killed. He also found a photo of the bombings in progress.
“I had the photo, I had the map, I had the grid reference,” he said. “I took my mom with me… and we went to the spot.”
Perrun and his mother travelled to significant spots near where Brown was killed. It was an emotional trip; Carol had never seen her father’s gravesite. But it was also healing for both of them.
“She [Carol] said she slept better that night than she had in years, because she got some closure,” Perrun said.
Perrun has returned many times since, through his work as a military history professor at the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba, and on his own time; he even travelled to France with his mother again, this time bringing his three daughters along, too.
“I find it a little bit funny that somebody that I didn’t know, two generations back, could inspire the direction that my life could take,” Perrun said.
“History and the past all of a sudden doesn’t seem so far away.”
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