St. Donat still marked by tragic crash, 72 years later
Published Tuesday, October 13, 2015 6:53PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 14, 2015 8:33AM EDT
Hiking up the trails of Montagne Noire, you can find a tragic piece of Canadian history among the serenity of nature.
The Laurentian mountain is a popular one among hikers, but it is also home to the remains of a Liberator bomber aircraft used for training missions in World War II.
The aircraft crash was, at that point, the deadliest in Canadian military history.
The bomber was flying a routine trip from Gander, N.L. To Mont-Joli, Que. on Oct. 19,1943.
The weather was bad and the on the maps the pilots were using to navigate, the height of Montagne Noire was wrong. It’s believed that by the time the pilot noticed the mountain, it was too late.
The crash was heard by locals and while the Air Force searched the area, no sign of the plane was found. After a month, the search was called off.
Three years later, a plane flying over Montagne Noire spotted something shiny. That same day, a search party was sent out, putting the mystery of the Liberator to rest.
Richard Nadon is a veteran whose father was part of that search crew.
He said the accident left a huge mark on the community; so much so that the people of St. Donat and the Air Force decided to leave the wreckage on the mountain and build a cemetery there, so the victims would never be forgotten.
“People have to remember that what we got now is because those people gave those lives for what we have now,” he said.
The original cemetery had a grave for each soldier. One of them was for 25-year-old Jacob Silverstein.
“I think it’s very sad in many ways,” said Lynda Silverstein, the airman’s niece. “The Silverstein family was very close, the brothers were very close and we came from a very close-knit family.”
The Silverstein grave always stood out because while the others were marked with crosses, his was marked with a Star of David.
As the years passed, the remote cemetery got run down. Two years ago, the town decided to fix it up. In the process, Silverstein’s grave marker was changed to a cross, emblazoned with the Star of David.
“It’s a no-no because it’s really not a proper identification for the individual as to what his faith was,” said Norm Gardner, spokesperson for Jewish War Veterans of Canada.
In other military cemeteries, such as in London and Normandy, soldiers' graves are marked with crosses or with stars -- but never both.
Many people who walk past the cemetery in St. Donat have spotted Silverstein's grave and find the star emblazoned on the cross to be odd.
"It's kind of strange to see this," said Veronique Grenier.
"I think it's very sad because, especially in death, you need to respect religion," said Nicholas Desiels.
According to Nadon, no disrespect was meant.
Nadon said the grave marker for Silverstein will be changed, adding the soldiers should be remembered not just for their collective sacrifice, but for where they came from.