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Life of service continues beyond military career

Wednesday, 08 November 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Life of service continues beyond military career
Veteran Wayne Shaw proudly displays a replica of his Royal Canadian Air Force operations loadmaster wings that hangs on the basement wall along with many other mementos of his 32-year military career.   Photo by Shannon Robison

Life of service continues beyond military career

By Shannon Robison

This week Wayne Shaw is a bit busier than usual as he spends time at Crowsnest Pass schools speaking about his experiences in the Canadian air force.

In these days preceding Remembrance Day, there is always a push to educate young people about the wars Canada has been involved with and the important role veterans have played in national and international history.

One never knows what questions will come from youths as the group of veterans stands before them, and he says what he can do is answer the questions honestly, whatever they may be.

“To me, the military was a good life,” Wayne says.

“Peace is very expensive,” he adds. This was true in the days of the First World War and remains true today.

As commander of District 6 of the Alberta and Northwest Territories provincial command of the Royal Canadian Legion, Wayne has a full calendar involving a fair amount of travel for Legion functions. With the centennial of Vimy Ridge, Canada 150 celebrations and 90th anniversaries for 12 branches in the district, this has been a particularly busy year.

Wayne has held this position since April 2016 and provides assistance to Legions across the southern area of the province. This comes in many forms as he acts as a communications bridge between local branches and command.

Each branch has autonomy, but must submit monthly and yearly reports. District commanders watch for red flags, scrutinize financial reports and review bylaws, among other things. The goal is to provide direction, but Wayne concedes that sometimes groups wait too long before reaching out for help.

The Royal Canadian Legion was founded in 1926 — a time when many veterans of the First World War and their families were in need of assistance. On the national level, all involved are dedicated to keeping the Legion going and this effort carries through at provincial and branch levels as well.

Wayne notes with concern that today’s veterans don’t seem as interested in joining as in the past. “The Legion isn’t changing fast enough for the younger generation,” he says.

This may be due in part to the number of different organizations reaching out to help veterans and to fight for their rights. He feels the number of splinter groups may be having a negative impact on Legion membership. But he points out that the Legion has an established presence, a long-standing relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the ability to make a difference.

“You don’t hear enough of the good stories about what the Legion does,” Wayne says. “If people only knew …”

When Wayne retired from military service in 1996, he and his wife, Janet, decided to move to Alberta to be closer to their sons. A friend suggested Crowsnest Pass and they were house-hunting before ever setting foot in the community.

After a career that involved moving every few years, they weren’t used to the idea of staying in one place, but have now been in their Hillcrest home for 21 years.

Finding the Bellevue Legion to be welcoming, they joined in 1998, with Wayne stepping into a leadership role right from the first year. He has been sergeant-at-arms, president, poppy chairman and service officer, while Janet is the membership chairperson.

Wayne and Janet say the branch has had its trials and tribulations, but that people pull together to keep the organization active and their volunteer base strong — they are wholehearted members.

Lending his skills to the broader role with provincial command could be considered a natural thing for Wayne to do, and sharing his story, as a veteran, is easy because he is proud of his service.

As a Grade 12 student, enlisting with the military was not on Wayne’s radar. Foremost on his mind was his mother, who was dying of cancer in a Toronto hospital.

In October 1963, he passed by a recruiting centre after a hospital visit with her. On impulse, he went in. There were three uniforms on display and he was drawn to the blue one — the uniform of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He took the aptitude test and told only one friend.

“What’s this I hear about you joining the military?” his mother asked when he visited the next day.

Wayne told her that he would be able to help with bills if he enlisted. Two days later his mother passed away. He thinks she likely took comfort in knowing that he would be looked after thanks to this decision.

In December he received a message to be at Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis on Jan. 3, 1964.

“That’s when I joined,” he says. “I never looked back. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

After basic training came continuous courses in trades, first aid, arms, weapons and physical training.His first posting was at Trenton, as a trans tech – loading and offloading aircraft at the base. It was a good introduction to the trade he stayed with for his 32 years in the military.

“My domain was from the cockpit back,” Wayne says. He also dealt with customs, health and immigration as they travelled to and from foreign countries.

He worked on Yukons, Boeing 707s and C-130 Hercules planes. About half of his career was spent doing groundwork while the other half saw him log 4,237.3 hours of flight time for the Department of National Defence.

Wayne says there was little time to see things on the stops — most trips involved a taxi ride from airport to hotel, with a return trip to hit the sky again in the morning.

While stationed in Germany, Wayne was asked to make a weekend trip to Antwerp to check on helicopters that were being sent back to Canada in sea cans. He noticed a broken seal on one.

“I opened the door and the stink hit me,” Wayne says.

He saw movement and realized there were people inside.

Port authorities found 13 Romanian refugees inside the container. They had been stowed away for three days. Wayne says the young men, desperate for something better, had their sights set on Canada but would not have survived the journey across the ocean.

Through moments like this in his career, Wayne learned to make the best of every situation. This carries through in his leadership style in the variety of roles he has taken on with the Legion.

On Saturday he will speak at the joint Remembrance Day service at Crowsnest Consolidated High School, then lay wreaths and spend time at the individual services throughout the afternoon at the Bellevue, Blairmore and Coleman branches.

Thank you, Wayne, for your service.

Read more in this week’s online edition here.
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From the November 8, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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