Press-Republican

Black

November 4, 2011

Gilles Lamontagne's War

As Remembrance Day approaches, I inevitably think of my dad. He was a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and although he never faced enemy fire, he signed up knowing such a terrible thing was a possibility.

His wartime experiences did include surviving a serious plane crash, and, had things turned out differently, I would not be here today writing this.

Dad died 10 years ago, only days after the requisite Remembrance Day period of sombre reflection. His passing made personal the dwindling of a generation whose wrenching sacrifice only those who were there really understand.

Which brings me to a recent encounter with someone who, as did my father, joined the air force in the spirit of adventure and, of course, to rid the world of tyranny. Gilles Lamontagne ended up having a much more brutal war than my dad, although I suspect they both emerged with a similar sense of what is important in life.

Gilles Lamontagne is now 92 years old and, though a bit stiff in body, looks, acts and speaks with an impressive vitality. I met him at his Quebec City apartment building, on an upper floor with a sweeping view north to the mountains and south to the St. Lawrence River and beyond.

"That's me, in the first F-18."

He points to a photographic souvenir of a life of many vivid chapters, not the least of which is his stint in the early 1980s as Canada's minister of national defense. During that term, he presided over the acquisition of Canada's current fleet of fighter jets, now the subject of a highly controversial replacement process.

Knowing his story, you can't help but think of Gilles Lamontagne, all of 23 years old, in the cockpit of another aircraft, a Wellington bomber, returning from a mission in Germany, high over Holland on a dark night in March 1943. Suddenly the clouds part and a Nazi fighter emerges and strafes the bomber into a flaming death trap.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Black
  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Big shift in Quebec vote

    Being a man of science, Philippe Couillard, premier-designate of Quebec, chose to use a geological term (though his field is actually medicine) to describe what happened in Monday's election, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Trench warfare in Quebec elections

    I've seen many a Quebec election in my day (I'll skip the "by cracky"), writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Dr. Phil's election prescription Philippe Couillard is a brain surgeon, not a psychiatrist, so his expertise is not necessarily understanding the collective mind of Quebecers, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Party's charter flight to majority

    It's not surprising the political maneuvering in recent weeks in Quebec City has been dubbed the "winter games," writes Canadian columnist Peter Black

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Joe Ryan's mountain vision

    Eventually someone surely would have taken the initiative to turn what the Algonquins called Manitonga Soutana and the locals called Mont Tremblant into a popular outdoor recreational destination, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    February 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Montreal's Genie on the courts

    In a land where raquettes de neige (snowshoes) are more popular than raquets (tennis), a young Canadian with classic California surfer girl looks is turning heads on the court.

    January 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Columnist's Canada in 1954

    I will depart from my usual discreet journalistic anonymity just this once and offer a few personal reflections on my life as a Canadian, writes columnist Peter Black.

    January 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • peter_black.jpg Prime minister's hockey history

    By my count, President Barack Obama has written three books under his own pen, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    December 27, 2013 1 Photo

  • peter_black.jpg Quebec City displays Holy Door

    It's the first and only such thing in North America: a Holy Door, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    December 13, 2013 1 Photo