A Canadian Military Icon
Major Henry Reid, the "Godfather of military transport helicopter operations in Canada."
Clarence Henry "Harry" Reid
Some historians agree that organic, or integral helicopter support to the army was a concept the need for which was revealed on the D-day drop zones near Carentan, France. During the night of 5/6 June 1944 the preliminary airborne insertions were tough going. The 3rd Battalion, 506th (US) Parachute Infantry Regiment apparently suffered the most, amongst all the US airborne units, and their awful experience contributed to the eventual development of army aviation, or helicopter forces devoted to the land force battle. |
The enemy was ready for the airborne assault that night. They had soaked surrounding farm buildings with gasoline. As the drops began they lit the buildings on fire, using the resulting light to pick off the Allied parachutists. Other jumpers drowned in the fields flooded by the Nazis. Only five officers and 29 men survived, in the 3rd Battalion, but remarkably they still captured their objective: two wooden bridges over the Douve River. The battle for Carentan had begun. As the Americans watched one of the bridges leading into the village they prayed for the air support they had been promised would arrive. Their prayers grew stronger with every enemy soldier seen casually crossing the bridge into the village. The trickle of enemy soldiers soon grew from a stream to a torrent, until the Americans, thoroughly agonized with the lack of air support, carried on without it. After three days Carentan fell, as did hundreds of dead.
Clarence Henry "Harry" Reid, a paratrooper with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, also shared the American angst over those that flew. He was also envious. Harry jumped with the 6th British Airborne Division, but many "sticks" (groups of jumpers) from his battalion missed their mark because their pilots veered off course, taking evasive action. Harry's drop zone was also flooded. When they managed to regroup, Harry remembers there were only fifteen of them left. His battalion lost 113 men on D-day, most due to drowning. But the few that survived seized their objective, too, grabbing two crossings over the Dives Canal, near Caen.
Harry was commissioned shortly after the war, and was given command of the Airborne Platoon at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre at Rivers, Manitoba. Promotion aside, he still felt he had to prove to his men that he could jump. Unbeknownst to all at the time, Harry landed hard, breaking both ankles. Perhaps to preserve his integrity he decided to walk home. Three miles later his wife met him at the door, sat him down and removed one of his boots. Only then did they realize how serious the injury was. She wisely left the other boot on and promptly took Harry to the hospital.
Like other seasoned paratroopers Harry's war experiences convinced him of the importance of army helicopters. In both the US and Canada post-war air power was focused almost entirely on higher and faster aircraft needed to intercept and destroy Soviet bombers. With much of the fiscal attention on this aspect of air power there was little money left for army aviation. President Kennedy and Secretary of Defence McNamara realized this. In response to this imbalance, and the need for greater battlefield dispersion in the face of tactical nuclear weapons, their innovative spirit contributed immensely to the establishment of army helicopter units in the US, and Canada understandably emulated these efforts. At the forefront of our efforts were men like Harry Reid, who has often been referred to as a founder in this regard. To his immense airborne courage the skill of flying was added. He had dreamed of such a moment from the age of 11, when he first wrote to the RCAF. Before learning to jump he had joined the Artillery as a boy Trumpeter. Harry eventually accumulated over 5,000 hours on dozens of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft from Canada and the US. He rose to the penultimate aviation supervisory role when he served as Chief Flying Instructor at the newly formed Army Aviation Training School in Rivers, Manitoba in 1960.
Harry was the first to command #1 Transport Helicopter Platoon, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC), the first such unit in the Canadian military. He was also the last infantryman in the army authorized to wear the badge of the #1 Canadian Parachute Battalion. As an infantry Captain he had passed his promotion exams, thereby becoming eligible for the rank of Major. But, when he transferred to the RCASC he immediately requested permission to take his new Corps' promotion exams, despite the aforementioned eligibility. His superiors advised against it since in their minds he had insufficient Service Corps experience. Harry disregarded the advice and passed the exams on his first attempt. Thus, he was justifiably proud of being, for a time, the only captain in the Canadian Army qualified to the rank of major in both the Infantry and the Service Corps. While there is little doubt that Harry was proud of his many accomplishments as a flying instructor, having independent command of his own helicopter unit was certainly his greatest joy. Perhaps it was an error of modesty, but the army called the unit a platoon, something typically led by a Captain. But, Major Reid's "Platoon" was actually larger than a Company, in terms of people and other resources. In fact his "Platoon" soon evolved into two distinct helicopter squadrons (447 and 450) each commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. Let there be no doubt as to the breadth of Harry's leadership skills.
It was only during his last few days on this earth that Harry let it be known he was in some discomfort. However, it merely served as but one rare moment during which those close to him finally realized that there was but a man behind the extraordinarily tough airborne-trained persona they were more familiar with. At age 78, one of Canada's most unique soldiers - a paratrooper, an army aviator, and an officer of superb integrity, who had begun his 35 year career as a fifteen year-old 'Boy Soldier', peacefully passed away in the night...
Clarence Henry "Harry" Reid is survived in Renfrew by his wife Margaret, his son Bruce, his daughter Barbara, and his son-in-law Robert. A veritable legion of admiring, respecting "army aviators" will also miss him.
Barbara and Bruce extend their heartfelt thanks, on behalf of their mother, Margaret, for all the kind wishes of condolence, letters of support and phone calls that have come in, following their father's passing. The dedicated support of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, and 427 Tactical Helicopter Squadron are also much appreciated. Without all of this Harry's last wish may not have been realized. A strong breeze and the downwash from a helicopter drew Harry's ashes from his urn, sending them floating earthward over the expanse that is Drop Zone Anzio. Harry got his last jump — as was his last wish.