One of Canada’s most celebrated Second World War fighter aces will be honoured with a CF-18 flyby in Red Deer on Saturday.
A pair of fighter jets from 4 Wing Cold Lake will soar over the Red Deer Sheraton Hotel at 3:30 p.m. to salute retired lieutenant-general Don Laubman, who passed away last week, and his wife Margie, who passed away in 2000.
During the war, Laubman flew Spitfires over Europe, downing 15 enemy planes — including seven in two days. That feat earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first of two he would be awarded.
He finished the war as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fourth-ranked ace.
Laubman re-enlisted after the war and rose through air force ranks to become First Commander of Canadian Forces Europe before retiring in 1972 as a lieutenant-general and Chief of Personnel of the Canadian Forces, and was once dubbed the “most popular general in the Canadian Forces.”
He was also a founding member and flight commander of the Blue Devils Air Defence Group Aerobatics Team flying de Havilland Vampires. The team performed at dozens of air shows before making its last flight in 1951.
Laubman, 96, died of natural causes in Red Deer, where he has lived since 1979. He was honoured as Citizen of the Year in 2005.
Friend Michael Dawe remembers Laubman’s many war stories, especially when he escaped the prison camp where he spent three weeks after being captured on April 14, 1945. He was strafing fuel trucks when they blew up, damaging his plane, and forcing him to bail out.
Dawe said Laubman spotted a car in the camp and saw his opportunity.
“He jumped in the car and drove out of the camp and hoped to goodness he didn’t get shot doing it, and hoped he was heading in the right direction and he would eventually get to friendly forces so he could turn himself over,” said Dawe.
The Red Deer resident describes his friend “as a true Canadian war hero” and a “remarkable man” who witnessed the Second World War “literally from a bird’s-eye view because they went up to provide fire support.”
In 2014, Laubman spoke to the Red Deer Advocate about his experiences on D-Day from his perch high above the drama below.
“The thing I most remember is the vessels off the shore, hundreds and hundreds of vessels. It was just a mass, warships, all kinds. You could see them running to the shoreline with troops aboard and getting them off but you couldn’t see much detail,” he said.
Among his many honours, Laubman was awarded the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2007.
Daughter Leslie Marchant said her father was a “phenomenal” human being and his popularity was legendary.
“You realized what a big deal he was through other people’s eyes,” she said.
Marchant said her father will be missed by many friends and family, including his two children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Laubman was born in Provost, Alta. and grew up in Edmonton where he was enthralled by the planes taking off and landing at the Edmonton Municipal Airport. He joined the air force in 1939, becoming a instructor before joining the war in Europe in 1943.
After his military career ended, he moved to Red Deer in 1979 to set up the city’s first Canadian Tire store.
His leadership skills were soon put to good use in the community. He was one of the founders of the Red Deer and Central Alberta Crime Stoppers organization, a former president of Rotary Club of Red Deer, and a founding board member of both the Red Deer Regional Health Foundation and Red Deer Community Foundation.
He would also become chairman of the David Thompson Health Region Foundation, which raised millions for Central Alberta hospitals and health care programs.
A joint Celebration of Life for Don and wife Margie will be held Saturday at the Red Deer Sheraton Hotel, in the Florence Room from 2-5 p.m.
Memorial donations may be made to Red Deer Regional Hospital Foundation.