Vet on having son at WWII ceremony: 'I really need him with me'
Canadian veteran Art Boon fought and was on the winning side in both D-Day and the liberation of Holland.
However, it seems winning the war he’s in 70 years later is no sure thing.
Unless there is a massive change of heart or a dramatic intervention, the 90-year-old retired warrant officer of the Second World War might just lose this battle.
But don’t tell him. He is determined to take this hill. There are many lining up to do battle with him.
There seemed on Tuesday to be no movement in his quest to convince the Avon Maitland District School Board to let his son, Rick, an elementary school teacher, take a leave to accompany him to the Netherlands Friday for a 10-day trip to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland — one of Canada’s greatest military achievements. Rick is also not allowed to take vacation when school is in session.
And with the school year still on, they won’t let him go — even on unpaid leave.
“I really need him with me,” explained Boon. “He knows my medical needs and understands what goes on on these trips. I can’t believe they won’t let him go. I am very hurt by this.”
It’s not looking good. The school board is adamant that they won’t let their teacher off from his classroom duties.
And the decision is final.
“We try to make a responsible decision for the staff and the students and we did that,” said director of education Ted Doherty. “I was asked point blank yesterday if we were going to change our mind and I said ‘No’ and I believe I have acted responsibly for a person in my position.”
Yes, the lines in this battle are clearly drawn. It’s a war of wills.
Accompanied by photographer Michael Peake, I tried to make some sense of this decision. I mean, Boon is a veteran. Who cares if a teacher misses a week of classes as long as he takes a leave of absence with no cost to the taxpayers?
If ever a rule could be bent a little, this could be it. Our first stop was at the Stratford Legion to see Boon, a man who organizes Remembrance Day ceremonies and speaks in schools about his experiences.
He is very upset about the board’s tough stance. Hopping mad.
“I think it is petty and very low class, as far as I am concerned,” he said. “It is insulting to all the veterans. We lost 7,000 men in Holland and I am going over there to represent them.” Attempts to change Doherty’s mind have so far failed.
Maybe you can give it a shot. His phone number is 519-527-0111, ext. 106. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You won’t find him rude or condescending. In fact, when Mike and I drove the 40 minutes west from Stratford to the board’s office in Seaforth, Doherty invited us into the boardroom and did an interview with us.
While he seems like a solid, courteous professional, I did find him to be stubborn, bureaucratic, unbending and intent on digging in his heels.
I urged him to look at the bigger picture. Make an exception for one of our heroes — one who is highly decorated and who was in heavy fighting that eventually led to the Dutch being freed from Nazi oppressors.
His point, however, is Boon is not being kept away from the trip as originally thought. The veteran’s grandson is poised to travel with him.
“The good news is he is still going to get to go and that is something we all wanted,” he said. “We have respect for him and the service has given to this country.”
Boon countered he finds this sentiment to be shallow.
“They don’t have any respect for me,” he said. “They don’t know me. They have never spoke to me yet.”
Many people are upset about this here, where a petition of 2,000 names was presented to the board, as well as 100 letters of support. A protest is set for Thursday. Among those planning to be there is legendary singer Loreena McKennitt, a Stratford native and honorary colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“We need to keep the pressure on the board,” she said. “It would be so easy to let this man go back to Holland with his son one last time. People like Mr. Boon are so important to this country and to the people of Holland. We don’t understand how it could hurt to have his son go over on the trip so he can go.”
With the clock winding down and not wanting to wait until the last minute, Boon said he tapped a grandson to look after him and he has paid for his ticket and travel.
“The problem is I don’t want him to have to be worried about looking after me,” said Boon. “I would prefer Rick to do that because he knows how to get me into the airports and on to the planes. He is also a history teacher who has been invited to go there, as well, by the Dutch government.”
From Doherty’s point of view, Rick Boon is needed back here in Stratford in his classroom.
“We tried to be as fair and sensitive as we could toward the staff and students,” said Doherty.
Hogwash, said Boon, who added: “I hate to say it, it’s also very small town.”
So, with the two camps clearly entrenched in their bunkers, it appears there is no truce on the way anytime soon.
Many Canadians are signing up to go war for Art Boon. There is no need for conscription.
But there are still two days left to conduct peace talks and judging from our readers, the school board would be very wise to do that.
Even if they feel a need to win at the Avon Maitland board, making a 90-year-old hero of the war feel uncomfortable on perhaps his final trip to revisit his and this country’s glory is not a victory to be proud of.
On the other hand, making sure veteran Art Boon is happy and content is something worth fighting for.
Do you agree with the board's decision?