Any generation of Canadian veterans can find connection at the local Legion | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton News

Any generation of Canadian veterans can find connection at the local Legion

These specialty poppies are on sale for $10 at the Royal Canadian Legion to commemorate 100 years of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance.

Even though Ron Bannister was a serving member of the Air Force when he first joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1966, he remembers feeling like he hadn’t earned his stripes yet.

But he stuck with it, earned his place and he's happy he did. 

“We weren’t veterans so we were sort of on the outside a bit,” he says. “They tolerated us, but as time went on it got more so that we were accepted.”

Bannister has now been a member for 55 years, has served as president, and is now the deputy zone commander. He served in the Air Force from 1958 to 1978 and achieved the rank of Corporal.

The Legion is where he finds that comradery. Head on into any Legion and you'll find men like Bannister willing to tell some stories, although not as many of them these days.

Bannister said the ranks of the Royal Canadian Legion have become smaller as the the number of Canadian veterans has been in steady decline for decades.

But the Legion continues to serve as a brotherhood among Canadian veterans.

“It’s like an extended family, no matter where you go.”

He encourages any veteran of any of the Armed Forces to join to see what it's about. 

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: Field of Crosses returns to Kelowna park for Remembrance Day

While sitting in the Legion earlier this week, Bannister pointed out his friends and fellow veterans who served in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Most times, they were all part of the same fraternity.

“If you went somewhere and there was Army and Navy and you were Air Force – if you got into a confrontation, they stood up with you.”

But Bannister could take care of himself. On one occasion while he was stationed in West Germany, a pair of men caught his attention because they were walking in a peculiar way. He was stationed in a tower while conducting a military exercise.

"Just as I moved there was this bang, and I looked and there was a bullet hole where I'd been standing."

When he looked, the two men were retreating with an AK-47.

"So I shot back... he'll be walking with a limp for the rest of his life."

He suspects they were Czech citizens who were trying to inflame tensions between the West and the then-Soviet Union.

Prior to his time in West Germany he was stationed in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. That was where he was serving in October 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. He remembers loading up the aircraft with torpedoes and depth charges and then having to remain on standby around the clock until the situation was resolved. 

Robert Sudbury, an executive with the Penticton Legion, is the son of a Lieutenant from the Second World War, and he has meticulously tracked his father’s actions throughout the war.

His father, Lt. Archie Sudbury, was an anti-aircraft gunner who survived a military plane crash at the age of 17, was part of the D-Day invasion, and went on to liberate a Nazi concentration camp.

READ MORE: Legion to hoist flag at National War Memorial on Remembrance Day then lower it

Robert’s dad took up smoking the day he landed in France. Since the flick of a lighter and the ember of a cigarette made people easy targets for snipers at night, smokers had to take their breaks in a safe place which kept them out of harm’s way for a few minutes.

Before his father’s craft could reach land it became stuck on a sandbar, putting the crew in a precarious position.

“Sometimes you had time to be scared, my dad said.”

About five servicemen were fearful that a German gunner was zeroing in on them and decided to swim, but the water was too deep and their gear was so heavy and they disappeared into the ocean. Another fellow servicemen was split at the waist by the hydraulic doors.

He remembers his dad giving credit to the movie Saving Private Ryan for realistically depicting the action scenes. His dad lived it.

After the Allies' successful invasion, Lt. Archie Sudbury was among the soldiers to advance into Germany. Nazis had retreated by the time they discovered and liberated a concentration camp, which at one point imprisoned Anne Frank, Robert said. He only discovered that about his father after an inquiry by students from Princess Margaret Secondary School.

As a Canadian, Robert said his father was looked down upon by his British counterparts.

“Those British guys didn’t like the our guys from the colonies.”

The stories are how other veterans know they'll be respected and understood. They know things and have been through things only these other men will know.

Civilians are also welcome. And as always, there is going to be a large gathering open to the public following the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph in Penticton.  

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. In addition to the regular poppies available by donation, branches are also selling a specialty poppy for $10.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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