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Ich bein ein Berliner

Heroes Remember

Ich bein ein Berliner

I think what John F. Kennedy did at that time, he told the Soviets, “If you think we’re gonna be scared off of this place, you better rethink. We’re gonna stay here.” And of course Canada just had no reason to leave. But to us, the professional soldiers, the biggest shame was not only the strategic one if we’d have left there, was losing this great theatre of operations where you train real professional soldiers at very senior ranks which we were not able to do on the country, you know inside the country by exercises at Valcartier or even Wainwright, although we progressed in the 80's to the rendez-vous series of exercises in order to replace what we expected to lose in Germany and eventually what we did lose. For one thing NATO, as we know it, simply would not have been able to put together the kind of forces that would at least stall or, and as it turned out, did more than stalled, stopped, or prevented the Warsaw Pact from coming across the border and seizing Western Europe which shortly after the war, particularly after the armies of occupation started to leave, it would have been a pretty dicey things to stop them. And they may have been totally dependant on nuclear weapons and something like this to be able to do it. But this, the territory was Germany, the occupation sector that existed in Germany. Of course, the French, the British. and the Americans all had sectors of that front basically, and we moved in because we had operated mostly adjacent to the British Army during the war. So we moved into the north and we were married up, if you want, with them. We were part actually of the British Army of the Rhine as it was called. So we did this sort of things and the American sector were really at the receiving end of our air force. And France was, but then in the 60's, when General Deveau pulled the French out, we started switching bases and this is when we decided that we’re gonna move our army to the south having reduced it considerably and we’ll join it with our air force and then create a Canadian logistics or support command all the way back. But that was replacing something that was a lot tidier when we were working with the British. But it had the advantage of getting the army to work with the air force for the first time. Because you know, when you exercised in Germany and you expected air cover to come over you to support the troops on the ground and the odds on seeing an American, the odds on seeing a Canadian aircraft was almost zero! We’d see the Dutch, or the German, or somebody else because we were in a different sector on the front. So when we moved to the south there was no guarantee either that you would always have a Canadian aircraft but you were grouped and practising and training with the tactical air forces of the countries that were positioned on that part of the front and the Canadians were. So we had lost a lot of our capabilities that we had in the north and the line of communications, support systems, all the way back to Canada except by air, it was, it became very difficult so we grouped everybody and created a national command system which I had the honour of commanding. Not that early, but just before I came, in the late 70's. But without the assistance, willing or unwilling, better willing of the German host nation, I mean how can you prepare to face a possible onslaught if you don’t have the Germans mixed up in it? So one way of course to guarantee the Germans that they were now allies were statements like “Ich bein ein Berliner.”

Mr. Belzile discusses NATO’s commitment to West Germany, and Canada’s military role there

Charles Belzile

Lt.-Gen. Charles Belzile was born in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, on March 12, 1933. As a youth, he was exposed to the armed forces as troop trains passed by his home during the Second World War. He joined the reserves, then the regular force with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in 1951. In 35 years of service, Lt.-Gen. Belzile has served in Korea, Germany, Cyprus and Canada. His appointments have included regimental duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles, Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, Commander 4th Canadian Mechanized Group and Canadian Forces Europe in Germany. Since retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he has held numerous posts as a consultant and honorary chair. Mr. Belzile Chaired the VAC 60th Anniversary Committee on VE-Day commemorations and was Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion. International honours include Commander of the Legion of Honour of France and recipient of the Vimy Award.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Charles Belzile
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Peacekeeping/Peacemaking in West Germany
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Lieutenant General

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