It took 74 years, but John Andrew “Dutch” McLellan finally received his World War II medals.
McLellan was awarded his hardware at a ceremony Oct. 23 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Cloverdale.
“Dad was feeling really great that night,” said Don McLellan, John’s son.
Don said his dad appreciated that so many family members and others showed up to witness a ceremony 74 years in the making.
“He was pretty proud to receive the medals and he has them on his coffee table,” said Don. “Someone asked him after the ceremony what he thought about all this and he said, ‘I wonder why it all happened.’ They asked, ‘do you mean the ceremony?’ He answered ‘no, why the war had to happen?’”
Don was also glad to see so many people there, both family and others. “A lot of times the veterans get forgotten.”
But it was no clerical error that prevented John from receiving his medals, he just never applied for them.
“He’s just that type of person,” Don said. “He said to me when I asked him, ‘I never applied for them because I was just doing my job.’”
John may not have received his medals at all had the family not inquired to see if John was eligible for a veteran’s pension.
Don said his dad was in the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. “He suffered some hearing loss because of his (service), so we thought he would definitely qualify for a veteran’s pension.”
As they inquired about the pension, they contacted the Cloverdale Legion. That’s when Earl Fraser, the Legion’s service officer, paid John a visit.
“I went to his house to visit him and see if we could get him a disability pension from Veterans Affairs Canada.”
Fraser asked John where his war medals were.
“Awe, I never got them,” John said. “But it doesn’t matter.”
Fraser then told John he should apply for them, even if it was just something John’s children would appreciate.
“I don’t want you to leave today,” Fraser told John, “but when you do go, your boys can have them.”
John agreed. “He said, ‘Okay, that sounds pretty good.’”
So Fraser and Don looked through John’s old WWII Soldier’s Service and Pay Book.
“It said in the book that he qualified for some medals,” said Don.
That’s when things got interesting for Fraser. He called Veterans Affairs Canada in Ottawa and spoke to someone in the Honour & Awards Section.
“I gave him all John’s info and he got back to us later saying John was eligible for two medals,” said Fraser.
Don said his dad was surprised he would be receiving medals 74 years after the war.
Fraser said the ceremony at the Cloverdale Legion was well-attended.
“It was awesome,” said Fraser. “John was very proud of those medals. He earned them.”
Fraser also said John looks great for being a centenarian.
“Nobody could believe his age. At 101, he looks like he could be 80.”
When Scott MacMillan, Legion president, pinned the medals on John’s chest everyone in the Legion gave John a standing ovation.
“I got goosebumps,” said Fraser. “There were tears. It was amazing. Not only was there a lot of his family members, but there was also a lot of members in the Legion that night.”
Thirty-one family members attended the ceremony, which included John’s children and their spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
In total, John has nine children, 24 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren.
John was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 1918, less than six weeks before the guns in Europe fell silent for the world’s first Armistice Day.
John was the youngest of five children and his mother passed away of pulmonary tuberculosis when John was two years old.
“Dad was sent to live in Vancouver when he was six,” said Don. “He went to St. Patrick’s until he finished Grade 9, then he was off to work.”
John was a sports enthusiast, according to Don, participating in lacrosse, football, and boxing. “He lost his spleen to the butt end of a lacrosse stick.”
Don said his dad then signed up with the army and was sent to Vernon for basic training.
“That’s where he met my mother. She waited for three years for him to come back [from the war]. They had six boys and then adopted a girl who was a foster child. They then had two more girls. Mom passed away five years ago this November 12.”
John served in Operation Cottage, part of the Aleutian Islands campaign, in 1943. Both Canadian and American forces landed on Kiska Island only to find the Japanese had already left. But due to mines, vehicle accidents, and friendly fire—both Canadian and American forces mistook each other for Japanese troops—the landing accrued 313 casualties, 92 dead and 221 wounded.
John then went to Europe and was part of the force that invaded the German-held Netherlands.
The two medals John received are the France and Germany Star and the 1939-1945 War Service Medal.
“He is like a lot of soldiers,” said Don. “They don’t want to talk about (the war) much. In the past he talked a bit about the people of (The Netherlands). He said they were very good to the Canadian soldiers. He would have liked to have gone back and visited them, but it never happened.”
The Cloverdale Legion invited John to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Veterans’ Square on Remembrance Day, but John declined. He lives in Langley and has been attending the Remembrance Day ceremony in Fort Langley for the last six years. John plans to continue on with that tradition again this year with his family.
“He said, ‘Thank you for the honour, but I just want to be with my family again this year.’”
Don’s brother Terry lives in Fort Langley and John likes the town and the Remembrance Day service there.
“It’s a smaller community,” Don said. “The service is very well attended and feels more like a family atmosphere.”
Don said the McLellans always head out for lunch afterwards.
“My brother Terry has been phoning ahead this year to try to confirm numbers. Last year, he made a reservation for lunch for 24 people, but 28 showed up.”
Don said it’s going to be another big year for a big family. He said John can’t wait.
“He loves being with his family, going to the ceremony, and then going out with everyone after.”