A Dream Come True: Veteran Boards First Vessel in 65 Years

Veteran receives honorary plaque from Holland America Line crew.

Though Blanche Bennett, a 100-year-old World War II veteran and Prince Edward Island resident, hadn’t been on a ship in 65 years, she continued to admire them from afar – especially cruise ships. Soaking up the sights of the ships as they docked at Chartlottetown, she often wondered what they looked like from the inside and how different they were from the vessels she traveled on back and forth from Europe in the 1950s. Peter McDougall, a Prince Edward Home volunteer and local tour guide, learned of her wish and shared it with Holland America Line. That’s when we rallied to grant her wish.

On July 18, 2023, Blanche boarded the Zaandam III for a special cruise ship tour.

“I didn’t think it was possible for a ship to be this big!” Blanche said. “I am absolutely amazed. I never thought I would be on a ship that is as big as this one.’’

Veteran meets crew aboard Holland America Line cruise ship.

Holland America Line Hotel General Manager Florin Dragomir, Captain Frits Carsjens, and Food & Beverage Director Ali Sahin welcome Blanche and her caretaker, Brenda Doucette, on board.

Overwhelmed with joy by the experience, she never anticipated her wish would come true. She told her friend, Peter, that she thought it was a pipedream to which he replied: “Well, I’m your dream piper.” True to his word, he actually attended the tour in full Highland regalia with his bagpipes to honor her as she boarded the ship.

Making Blanche’s wish come true was an honor and delight for our crew as well. It was also incredibly meaningful as they thought about the ship’s predecessor, Zaandam II, which was lost during WWII after being hit by a U-Boat torpedo. Though three crew members were miraculously rescued three months after the explosion, 130 people lost their lives.

Blanche knew all too well the cost of the war, having left Prince Edward Island for the first time to serve in Halifax. She was a Lance Corporal and met her husband, Murray, who also enlisted. After the war, they lived in France for several years and later returned to Canada in 1958. That was the last time she was on a vessel…until now.

People gather for surprise cruise ship tour in honor of veteran.

Holland America Line Hotel General Manager Florin Dragomir, Captain Frits Carsjens, Peter McDougall, Prince Edward Island Home Volunteer, and Brenda Doucette enjoy a special ship tour with Blanche.  

Reflecting on our shared history, it was a great honor to thank Blanche for her service and for delighting our crew as she explored the Zaandam III. You can learn more about Blanche’s visit by checking out this news coverage from Saltwire.*

*By clicking this link, you will be leaving the Holland America Line website and navigating to a third party website that is not owned, operated, or controlled by Holland America Line or any of its affiliates.

Blog Article by Adrienne Carter & Lesley McMillen.


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