Thursday, November 11, 2004

Remembering

As I was driving in to work today, because Canada has not yet seen fit to make Remembrance Day a national holiday, my thoughts drifted to people I remember today. Every once in a while I get out my log book and page through thirty years of memories over a wee dram of fine single malt. Dozens of faces and hundreds of memories leap from the pages to my mind's eye. There are many too many to list, but I'd like to share memories of three.

Brian Dowds was a lineman-sized guy who grew up in Goderich, Ontario and was drafted by the Ottawa Roughriders. He joined the Air Force, instead, and we got our wings together in Gimli in 1967. We stayed at Gimli as flying instructors on the T-33. Brian was an excellent pilot and a great buddy, and our families became very close. We would meet at the flightline early and talk Corporal Boudreau (a Hellyer Corporal, for those who remember) out of a couple of aircraft that really needed airtests for something 'serious', like a navigation light change. We'd launch off and hone our formation skills for an hour or so, including the odd manoeuvre that the boss might have considered aerobatic. Safely back on deck, we'd dutifully sign off the flight test and certify the nav light safe for the rest of the day's flying program. Beer calls were an exercise in mutual support and PMQs were mercifully close to the base. In March, 1969, Brian was killed when his aircraft glanced off the frozen Lake Winnipeg just south of Hecla Island. Two years later and with my first beer in hand on a Friday night in Gimli, I had the most vivid vision of Brian standing in the uniform in which he was buried, just looking at me and smiling.

Paul Rackham, "Rack", "Mr. Rackers" was a young single rat who grew up in Ottawa, flew the CF-100 in the electronic warfare role, and was one of the most free spirits I ever met. Our paths crossed in Cold Lake in the early 70s, when we were both posted to the CF-104. With another reprobate who shall remain nameless, but who will read this, we became the Terrible Trio. I'm pretty sure that it was a term of endearment, but we did strike just the tiniest bit of terror into the hearts of the odd senior officer. We lived by the work hard and play harder rule, and one memory is of Rackham and another course mate sticking their rental horses noses through our rental house window in Cold Lake much, much too early on Saturday morning. The three of us went off to Europe on separate squadrons together, as the grownups thought that to be the wisest move. We still managed to team up and spread the gospel of good flying and good fun to an international audience. We did contribute to the delinquency of the odd senior officer in other air forces, and Colonel Bill Ongena (Belgian Air Force) was told by his superiors that he had entirely too much fun in Florennes, Belgium one night, shooting up his own mess with our beer can cannon. In May, 1973, we lost Paul Rackham to a flap failure on his Starfighter which drove his aircraft into the North Sea near Bodo, Norway. The Terrible Trio became the Dynamic Duo.

Clancy Scheldrup is a name known to anyone in the Canadian Air Force older than the age of about 45. Clancy was a bear of a man with the softest heart. He filled the cockpits of the Sabres, Tutors and Starfighters that he flew. Our paths crossed many times and we served on four different flying schools or squadrons together. Clancy was everyone's big brother, and uncle or grandpa to everyone's kids. He and his wife, Vena, were the go-to couple for anyone who had a problem of any kind and everyone got their full attention. They were always the ones supplying egg-in-the-hole late Friday night and the first ones ones up with the "cure" on Saturday morning. Our PMQs were side-by-side in Cold Lake, and one of our young son Robb's favourite things was sitting on the front step on Saturday morning eating cold chili out of the pot with his Godfather, Clancy. In June, 1985, we lost Clancy in a Tutor in Calgary, when the ejection seat was not quite up to the challenge after an engine failure at the most critical point just after takeoff.

Today, we all remember someone. For many of us, it is people we knew. For most Canadians, it is people they have never met. Known or unknown, their past has paid for our present and the price was ultimate. For those who serve today, their present will pay for our future. Just as we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who have gone before; so too do we owe support to those who are asked to sacrifice their present today.

Right now, I am going to the Butterdome in Edmonton to pay homage to those who have given us our today. Tomorrow, I will try to do something for those who serve their country today to give us our tomorrow. Please do the same.

They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

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