October 4, 2015


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Capital Chronicles

A story to remember

Every year on Remembrance Day we pause to think and remember.

This year, I will think as I often do about the story of my mother's father, Daniel Yanke, stripping down with his buddies and dancing in a fountain in Belgium when they found out the war was over.

I will think about the veterans I travelled to France with seven years ago for the 60th anniversary of the invasion at Dieppe.

Their memories gave me the best glimpse I've ever had at the realities of battle and a far deeper appreciation of why Remembrance Day is so important.

I will think about how much I wish I could have had the chance to hear those memories from my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born. And I will think about the one story of his service which has become a legend in my family.

It is the story of my father's father as a hero, recounted matter-of-factly in a newspaper clipping published in 1944 or 1945. The clipping is now old and yellowed, torn in a few places and faded. It has no date.

My grandfather, Major Lawrence Rabson, was a surgeon, who served overseas from 1940 to 1946, in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. One particular day a British sergeant was wheeled into the operating room at a Canadian casualty clearing station close to the front lines.

The soldier had a 12-inch German bazooka shell in his stomach. The shell would have been difficult to remove in any circumstance but this particular operation posed a great risk to anyone in the OR. The shell was live. According to the newspaper clipping, the sergeant had been examining the Bazooka when the spring mechanism accidentally tripped and the shell was driven into his stomach. But it never detonated.

With a bomb disposal expert at his side guiding his hands to keep the shell from exploding, my grandfather worked to remove it. Only they, a surgeon's assistant and an anesthetist were allowed to say during the operation. A nurse was ordered out for her own safety.

The operation took an hour and 45 minutes but my grandfather successfully removed the shell and it did not go off.

The story doesn't have a totally happy ending. Unfortunately the sergeant never regained consciousness and died five days later.

The newspaper clipping was saved and kept rolled up inside the shell, which my grandfather kept as a memento. It eventually was passed on to my father, who periodically would bring it out and show it to us as kids.

I like to think the fact my grandfather kept that shell and the clipping are proof he was proud of what he did that day.

I may never have had the chance to tell him in person but I'm proud of him too.

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