TORONTO —; Don Stewart was supposed to be dead.
He hadn’t even told his family he’d joined the navy when they got word that he was lost at sea.
They didn’t learn the truth until he returned home in 1945.
“They received notice that I had been lost at sea and when I came home they were really shook up, but they were glad to see me,” Stewart said.
“I saw my dad when I got off the bus and he grabbed a hold of me and said ‘you’re supposed to be dead’, and he hugged me like you wouldn’t believe.”
Stewart was just 16 when he enlisted in 1941.
“I had to lie about my age, because you had to be 17-and-a-half to 18 [years old],” the now-91 year-old veteran recalls.
“I went up to see my mother – she was working a night shift at the hospital – told her I was buying an old car, she signed the papers.”
Stewart joined his friends and was recruited as a seaman on the HMCS Discovery and served in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.
“My friends were all joining and it was a different era… I wanted to be in the navy and that was it. I was in the navy,” he said.
At the time of his discharge in 1945, Stewart rose the ranks as an acting petty officer.
WATCH ABOVE: Veteran Don Stewart speaks about experience in navy
Stewart said it was years before he told his own children he served in the navy, but he has one memory that he remembers vividly.
“When I found out the war was over in Japan, I was in the Pacific at the time, I think that was the most momentous time of all because I figured I was on my way home,” he said.
“It was four months later before I got home, but I was sure glad to hear it was over.”
The veteran is paying his respects to his comrades at the SunnyBrook veterans centre, where 475 veterans currently live.
Sunnybrook is the largest veterans care facility in the country.
In honour of Remembrance Day, over 30,000 flags were planted in the ground outside of the centre.
“It’s a momentous occasion when you look out and see all this and you think about your friends who never made it home,” said Stewart.
“You’re kind of bleary-eyed when you look out and see all these things. It brings back memories of your buddies that never came home and they are paying honour to all the veterans.”