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97-year-old St. John’s veteran has been pinning poppies for 50 years

Rod Deon, 97, is a naval veteran of the Second World War and has volunteered with the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy campaign for 50 straight years.
Rod Deon, 97, is a naval veteran of the Second World War and has volunteered with the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy campaign for 50 straight years. - Joe Gibbons

‘It’s in my blood, I suppose’

If you get groceries at the Howley Estates Sobeys Thursday, you’ll see 97-year-old Second World War veteran Rod Deon.

This is his 50th straight year volunteering with the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy campaign.

Deon was born in 1921 in Yarmouth, N.S., and by the early 1940s was working as a shipwright at the Halifax dockyard.

He joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942 as a hull technician – “They took me in just like that because I was already doing that kind of a job.”

He eventually worked his way up to chief petty officer with the engineers’ branch.

Deon was aboard the destroyer HMCS Ottawa during D-Day in 1944 when it was tasked with protecting the invasion forces.

The Ottawa sank three German submarines that year – two of the U-boats were sunk within the span of three days.

“We stayed up night and day for three days without sleep to chase those two U-boats until we managed to get them,” Deon recalled.

He’s hard of hearing today – partly because of age, but mostly because of the war.

“The guns were right over my head – my office was right on the bow, and about 10 feet above me were the big 4.7-inch guns and I was right underneath there. The noise was so bad I couldn’t hear.”

To this day, Deon describes a steady noise in his head.

“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week I have noise in my head – never stops.”

It’s the same reason he uses a cane.

“My legs are OK – it’s my balance. I need a cane in case I fall. It’s the balance, it’s in my ears –something to do with those big guns and my loss of hearing.”

Still, he considers himself lucky.

The reason Deon participates in the poppy campaign year after year is to help those who aren’t so lucky.

“That’s what the poppy does – it helps the veterans,” he said.

Poppy funds are used to help veterans in a range of ways – from providing grants for basic necessities such as food, heating costs, and medication, to educational bursaries for children and grandchildren of veterans, and even supporting meals-on-wheels and similar services in communities where veterans would benefit.

After the war, Deon and his wife moved to Toronto, where they raised their family.

In 1968, a neighbour knocked on his door and said a group of people were looking to start a legion in the Don Mills area.

“I said, ‘Yes, by all means, I’d like to join.’”

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 617 was born and Deon hasn’t missed a poppy campaign since.

“It’s a bit of a habit with me – I’ve been campaigning for many years. It’s in my blood, I suppose.”

Deon and his wife moved to St. John’s a few years ago to be closer to their daughter, but he quickly signed up with the local legion in Pleasantville, Branch 56.

While Deon said he feels “really good” for his age, nowadays he doesn’t want to “overdo it” so he volunteers twice a week during the campaign.

His second time volunteering this week will be Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Howley Estates Sobeys.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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