RE­MEM­BER

Ded­i­cated to our he­roes

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­LON HEC­TOR

If you’re look­ing to hear war sto­ries, morn­ing cof­fee with the vet­er­ans at the Le­gion Hall is the place to get them. You will also find lots of laughs and con­ver­sa­tion, and lots of rag­ging.

“We pick on each other,” says Jim Kleck­ner. “That’s what we do.”

Kleck­ner is not a veteran, but he has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the group. His dad was in the ser­vice and his mom was a war bride. He has al­ways sup­ported the Le­gion as an as­so­ciate mem­ber.

Con­ver­sa­tion goes from tor­pedo boats to duck hunt­ing to goose hunt­ing, then to base­ball and a joke of the day best left off the record.

“We talk a lot of BS,” jokes Rene Lachance, a navy vet who served for 29 years. “It’s amaz­ing, we meet six days a week and the sto­ries are al­ways dif­fer­ent.”

Some­one in the group jokes: “Well, these old guys, you can tell them the same story three or four times, and they never re­mem­ber!”

Lachance’s long­est tour was to Afghanistan, for nine months.

“What comes to mind, what’s the hard­est, is you live in small quar­ters and you see the same faces ev­ery day, ev­ery day, ev­ery day, and ev­ery day,” says Lachance. “And the thing is, the higher your rank, in a way, the harder it is for you, be­cause you are hu­man like ev­ery­one else but you have to keep the morale up and the guys mo­ti­vated.”

Tours usu­ally run for about six months, so that nine-month tour Lachance re­mem­bers is a doozy.

“I mean your life back home goes on no matter how long you’re gone for, it goes on with­out you,” he said. “You can dwell on that for hours, be­cause then you get to think­ing about fam­ily. There’s a lot of divorce, kids miss­ing you. It’s not easy. The cooks help a lot. They do spe­cial meals here and there.”

Right on cue, in walks Bob Turn­bull, chief petty of­fi­cer, se­cond class, re­tired, a navy man for 33 years. He was one of those cooks.

“Oh, there’s Mr. Bob! I was just talk­ing about how good the cooks were to us!” says Lachance. For Turn­ball, the se­cret is sim­ple. “Don’t burn the spaghetti,” he says qui­etly, while the group roars with laugh­ter.

“The first meal at sea, 99 per cent of the time, is spaghetti,” adds Lachance, nod­ding and smil­ing.

Speak­ing of cooks, navy veteran Chuck MacMil­lan tells the story of cook Harold Se­brum, who was brought up on the car­pet one time for aid­ing and abet­ting the en­emy.

“Re­mem­ber those metal meal trays. Peo­ple would stick their gum on the trays and they would stick to­gether,” says MacMil­lan. “And Harold would just throw them through the porthole be­cause he didn’t want to deal with it. And they were in the Mediter­ranean and of course, all these lit­tle metal trays were shiny and flash­ing sig­nals, sup­pos­edly.” Some­one re­ported it to the brass. “’What the hell is go­ing on?’” says MacMil­lan. “’That ship is send­ing sig­nals to the en­emy!’ So, Harry was brought onto the car­pet. He said ‘Well, sir, it was too hard to clean and I am too busy.’”

More laughs from the ta­ble. It’s sto­ries like that which bring the vets and as­so­ciate mem­bers back morn­ing after morn­ing. That all of them have re­tired here in Moose Jaw is nei­ther an ac­ci­dent nor co­in­ci­dence.

“Most of us re­tire here where we fin­ished off our ser­vice. To re­tire with what­ever pen­sion you get and you go back to where you came from… the rest of the coun­try is so ex­pen­sive,” says Steve Ed­wards, re­tired mil­i­tary fire­fighter. “So ba­si­cally you say ‘I am go­ing to stay right where I am, all my friends are here and I can af­ford to do ev­ery­thing.’”

“Moose Jaw is a great place to re­tire,” adds Turn­bull, who com­pleted his ca­reer at 15 Wing.

Ray Tay­lor, who started out in army in­fantry, nods his head and agrees.

“That’s true, isn’t it? In your ca­reer, there are peo­ple you know and you become friends and then they’re gone for 15 or 20 years,” says Tay­lor. “You run into them again, and you’re a dif­fer­ent per­son. So, my friends are here.”

Tay­lor is a lit­tle more re­served than the rest. He com­pleted his ca­reer as an of­fi­cer in the se­cu­rity branch, work­ing intelligence and counter-intelligence. There re­main de­tails of his time in ser­vice he can­not dis­close. He moved 29 times in 32 years of ser­vice.

“I was all over the place. I switched trades a lot. It was tough,” he says. “But I had a very full ca­reer, a very re­ward­ing ca­reer.”

While the vets and their com­pa­tri­ots are gen­er­ally a jovial bunch, it’s hard to for­get their chal­lenges. Lachance ex­plains how they have to fight for dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits.

“You have to be able to prove that your med­i­cal is­sues hap­pened dur­ing your ser­vice years,” ex­plains Lachance. “I have two fu­sions in my neck be­cause of what hap­pened dur­ing my ser­vice, but it’s hard to prove. So, you gotta fight, fight, fight. After a while, we just give up.

“That’s a choice you make at 18 years old, and you live with it,”

Mar­cel Viel, master cor­po­ral, re­tired, tried to think back to when he was 18. He came close. He was serv­ing in the Air Force and found him­self in Egypt in 1967. His squad was sud­denly and quickly evac­u­ated out of their base in Egypt. Three days later, Is­rael at­tacked Egypt and the Six-Day War be­gan. Viel was 23 at the time.

“You see, in a sit­u­a­tion like that, ev­ery­body is scared,” he said. “That was the very first time I could hear shots close by.”

As is his way, MacMil­lan has an­other story to lighten the mood.

He was do­ing pub­lic re­la­tions once for the Le­gion here in Moose Jaw. He asked all the old vets to bring in pic­tures of when they first joined the ser­vice.

“We had a lit­tle con­test go­ing. We showed the pic­tures and asked peo­ple to guess who’s who,” ex­plains MacMil­lan. “For some of them, there was no guess­ing. It was so ob­vi­ous. For oth­ers, not so much.”

One lady was look­ing at a pic­ture of a young of­fi­cer — debonair, with a man­i­cured mous­tache. He used to be in the British army.

“He looked like some­one out of the old movies, like Er­rol Flynn,” says MacMil­lan.

Just as he walked by in the hall, she looked at the pic­ture of the young sol­dier and she said: “Oh, I’d let him put his boots un­der my bed any­time.”

“I told her ‘Well, go ask him now, there he goes,’” says MacMil­lan. “And the look on her face when she saw him in his older years — she said, ‘That’s him?’”

She quickly changed her mind.

You see, in a sit­u­a­tion like that, ev­ery­body is scared. That was the very first time I could hear shots close by. Mar­cel Viel, Master Cor­po­ral, re­tired

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