Ross Mitchell of Douglas, Man., was just 18 when he began infantry training with the Canadian army in 1943. Told he would not be sent overseas until he was 19, he decided to give the airborne a try.
He spent the summer of 1944 running around Shilo and jumping off towers in stifling heat, learning how to be a paratrooper. The jumping part was an acquired skill. The killing part, he knew well enough.
“I had shot thousands of gophers,” Mitchell, now 93, said recently. “And I’d shot cattle and pigs for my dad when he wanted to slaughter them. So killing didn’t really bother me.
“They couldn’t train me now to do what I did then.”
What Private Mitchell did then was the job of sniper, picking off German artillery observers from 500 metres using a Lee-Enfield .303 with a sc...