Recognition is always nice to have, even when it is a long time coming.
Nick Melnechuk, one of Lacombe’s Second World War veterans, was recognized for his service when he was awarded with the Bomber Command Bar at the Royal Canadian Legion last Thursday.
Melnechuk applied for the Bomber Command Bar last year when he first heard about the award but for some reason was not recognized in October with other members of the Bomber Command, such as fellow Lacombian Ken Long. However, when Melnechuk contacted Veterans Affairs, it wasn’t long before he received a letter stating that he could receive the recognition and wear the Bomber Command Bar.
Melnechuk guessed that he was not initially awarded with the Bomber Command Bar because he was a nurse and not a member of the aircrew. However, he said he was still a member of the unit and his job was just as important as the ones flying the planes.
“I was stationed there, so I should get a medal, that’s what I feel,” said Melnechuk. “Anyone who was stationed there should get a medal.”
Stationed on the same base as the pilots of Bomber Command, it was Melnechuk’s job to patch up and care for the pilots and other members when they came back from missions or got sick. Melnechuk said it was where his was stationed, not his job, that made him a member of Bomber Command.
It was a job that was many times stressful and overwhelming, Melnechuk said.
“What sticks out for me is – and it’s very depressing – is that every time a plan came back, it would be all shot up,” said Melnechuk. “If it landed in our area, I would have to go to the crash site. It was very traumatic.”
It was quite difficult, to act as nurse to, or even remember fallen comrades who he had been close to during the war, said Melnechuk. He even spoke of waking up from nightmares, paranoid that someone was hiding from him in the dark.
“I would turn all the lights on, I remember this vividly, I would turn all the lights on and everyone would go, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I would say, ‘Well, there’s someone under my bed!’” Of course, Melnechuk never found anything when he searched under his bed and eventually he got over those feelings of paranoia. Melnechuk also has many fond memories of his time in the service. He keeps a photo album full of images to remind him of those times and said he was happy to serve his country doing what he loved to do.
“It was the work I loved,” said Melnechuk. “I enjoyed every minute of it. I have no regrets.”
When Melnechuk was conscripted in 1942, he was working as an orderly in Winnipeg. His letter said he was to report to the army, but before doing so, Melnechuk went to a local recruiting office for more information.
As soon as the recruiter heard that Melnechuk had a background in medical services, he told Melnechuk his services were needed in the air force more so than the army. Melnechuk then joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and his recruiter notified the army of the change. After joining the Royal Air Canadian Air Force, Melnechuk went to Trenton, Ontario to further his medical training and become a nurse with the military.
Melnechuk said it is important for Canadians to recognize and remember our veterans as a way to honour the sacrifices they made for our country.
He also said it is important for living veterans to share their stories so people will remember what they did.
“I don’t think they should ever forget it,” said Melnechuk. “A lot of lives were lost. People donated their lives to the cause that they thought was the right cause, which I think was the right cause.”
In addition to his most recent award, the Bomber Command Bar, Melnechuk has also been awarded with the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, 1939-1945 War Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration.