Netherlands honours POW veteran

Rudi Hoenson meets with CPO1 Gilles Grégoire and RAdm Art McDonald during a war medals presentation ceremony for Hoenson at the Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead, Oct. 7. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Rudi Hoenson meets with CPO1 Gilles Grégoire and RAdm Art McDonald during a war medals presentation ceremony for Hoenson at the Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead, Oct. 7. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Japanese POW Rudi Hoenson, 93, has finally received his well-earned war medals, seven decades after the Second World War ended.

Netherlands Defence Attache in Canada, Lieutenant Colonel Christa Oppers-Beumer, on behalf of Netherlands Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, honoured him with the Mobilization War Cross and the Medal for Order and Peace during an Oct. 7 ceremony at Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead.

Despite seeing the worst horrors of war firsthand, including the Nagasaki atomic bomb, the upbeat Hoenson teased officials.

“I would like to thank the Dutch government even though these medals are a little late in arriving. What took you so long? I have been waiting 71 years…You are not going to prick me with the medal are you?”

The extended spell of spontaneous laughter broke much of the pre-ceremony tension in the auditorium, but after his ice-breaker the war veteran took a more serious tone.

In his address to the audience, Hoenson said he was dedicating his medals to his fallen comrades who fought alongside him in the Dutch East Indies prior to his capture, and those at the POW camp in Nagasaki – where he spent three-and-a-half years – that didn’t survive.

“They were entitled to the awards too, but sadly many of them did not receive it,” said Hoenson, who received a standing ovation.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and Hoenson’s POW camp was less than a mile from ground zero. In the aftermath of the blast much of the city was levelled and left in smouldering ruins; Hoenson and several other prisoners fled the camp. They eventually made it to safety following the Japanese surrender.

He noted that over 20 of his fellow prisoners weren’t so lucky and died from severe burns in the days immediately following the blast, while nearly half of the 200 prisoners at the camp were sent to a U.S. hospital ship in the days following.

After the war, Hoenson moved to Canada virtually penniless, but then managed to accumulate a small fortune after shrewdly investing money he made from working in Alberta’s oil fields. Hoenson has spent the last decade of his life giving away his fortune to those in need. He has given over $1 million in charitable donations to the Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead.

Also in attendance were Rear Admiral Art  McDonald, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific; Chief Petty Officer First Class Gilles Grégoire, Formation Chief; and the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of B.C.

LGov Guichon is friends with Hoenson and during the beginning of her address was moved to tears by his charitable kindness and resiliency through the “hardship and horror” of war.

“This is the reason we need to hear Rudi’s story and to celebrate him,” said LGov Guichon. “He has no blame, no bitterness, and only goodwill towards others; that is truly the triumph we are here to celebrate.”

Following the ceremony attendees were led to the front foyer of the lodge for the unveiling a new spot on their Donor Wall commemorating Hoenson’s seven figures of donations.
                    

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