The year was 1942 and Norm Salive was 16 years old.
At 16, he was too young to sign up for the armed forces, too young that is, unless he took it upon himself to make a couple of changes to his birth certificate.
Salive, comfortably seated in an easy chair in the cozy living room his wife, Lorraine, has already started to decorate for Christmas, smiles, as he allows his mind to drift back through the years.
“Me and this other fellow, we were working together and he said ‘I’m going to go and join up’. I’m going too,”
I said. I knew I was too young, but I knew a way around that.
“I kind of changed the dates on my birth certificate,” he admitted with a smile. “When I showed it to them they looked at it and let me through.”
And so at an age when he was barely old enough to get a driver’s license, the young man nonchalantly signed his name to a document that led to an unseen future where courage and fear lived side by side and some men lived, but many did not.
Salive like so many other young men who had enlisted, was eager and ready to face whatever unchartered territories may lay before them.
He was sent to London, Ontario where he embarked on training and was issued a uniform.
His first job lasted all summer and involved driving brand new army trucks full of enlisted troops to wherever they needed to go.
From London, Salive was transferred to Camp Borden, Ontario where his experience as a driver was soon noticed.
“An officer asked me if I liked driving and I said I did and so they showed me how to drive a Bren Gun Carrier, (the most widely used of all armoured fighting vehicles during World War II).
Before he knew it, Salive found himself an instructor, training other men how to drive the Bren Gun Carrier.
He was then transferred to Camp Dundurn in Saskatchewan. (The A27 Canadian Armoured Corps Training Centre (A27 CACTC) was moved to Camp Dundurn from Camp Borden on January 28, 1942)
After some time there he was sent back to Camp Borden and from there he was shipped overseas.
Once they were overseas, the regiment he was with dissolved, and he joined the Calgary Highlanders.
He recalled one instance where the young men were left on their own and came upon a Bren Gun Carrier.
“There was a big pile of Gerry cans around and they had some gas left in them, so we filled it up and I jumped on it, cranked it over and it started.
Salive smiled at the memory.
“We were driving around the country in this thing and the RCMP were chasing us. They finally took it away from us.”
But the young men’s fun ended all too soon and before long they found themselves heading to the front lines in Belgium and Holland.
The Canadian soldiers found the people in Holland were starving.
He recalled being asked by a Dutch man to shoot his horse so the meat could be used for food.
He did it, and later, hungry, but grateful Dutch people came to get a portion of the meat.
Salive received a concussion from a bomb explosion while fighting in the dykes of Holland.
His regiment had left him for dead and moved on and when he regained consciousness he was laying in a ditch and had no idea which way his troop had gone, but, somehow managed to find them.
It was, however, a harrowing experience and one that will remain etched in his memory forever.
Salive recalled the battle where he was wounded in the hand.
“It was in the dykes. The Germans all sat in there. They had been in there quite a while. Another regiment came to take over our positions and we went to a resting area to get clean clothes. But the other regiment was bombed right out. It was an awful mess. And then someone said ‘sorry boys, you gotta go back up’. We really got it then.”
Despite being wounded in the hand, Salive rescued a buddy who was standing out in the open with one leg wounded. I picked him up and put him on my shoulder,” he said.
When Salive took his buddy to first aid he was taken away in an ambulance and Salive himself received needed medical attention.
“We both went to the hospital and I never saw him after that,” he said.
It wasn’t until many years later that Salive’s daughter found his name on the Internet.
“My daughter knew the guy’s name and she came across his grandson’s name on the Internet.”
“We hadn’t seen each other since I saved his life. We got hold of him and had a reunion. It was great to see him again.”
Salive returned from the war when he was 20 years old. He married and he and his wife had five children, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
The couple has returned to Holland twice; once in 1995 and again in 2010. Both times, the experience was heartwarming.
“The little kids are overwhelming. They come to the soldiers and say thank you. They treat you like gold.”
Salive speaks of his experiences in the war in a matter of fact way.
“You had to do what you had to do,” he said with a shrug.
But, his wife Lorraine said he hardly talked about the war for the first 25 years they were married.
“I think it was hard for him. But, I think all he lived through has made him a better person.”