Clarence ‘Chuck’ Kyler and Tony Evans learned more than a few things during their time in the army.
The two veterans can typically be found sharing a drink and some fries at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 261 in Forest Grove. Both Kyler and Evans also serve as the Legion’s unofficial maintenance team keeping everything running ship-shape and tidy.
Of the two of them, Kyler, 79, is the only one who was deployed overseas, though he never saw combat. Instead, he served as a tank mechanic in the Fort Garry Horse Armoured Corps in Egypt and Germany from 1958 to 1965.
“I haven’t got a clue why I joined. At the time I’d failed my English course and they said I’d have to do my Grade 12 again, so I said ‘to hell with it’ and joined the army,” Kyler said. “When I was in the army I was doing all kinds of tests to find out what I was good at and they were going to have me be a tank driver. Then they gave me another test and I ended up as a mechanic.”
Evans, 66, also joined the army for an education. Originally from a small community in northern Quebec, which had no high school when he was 13, Evans left home to move down to Montreal to attend a regional high school. As his parents weren’t well off, he joined the military at 14 in 1972 and served for six years in the reserves with the Sherbrooke Hussars, leaving as a private first class.
“It put me through school, I got an education and then I was discharged in 1978,” Evans said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. It helped me in later life with navigation, communications and even driving. When I got out to civilian life it was very easy to convert to work in building maintenance.”
Unlike Evans, Kyler spent only two of his six years of service in Canada, which he said was lucky. He was deployed as part of NATO peacekeeping forces to both Egypt and Germany, which he said was valuable as it showed him how other people live.
One of Kyler’s favourite memories was watching an “American Bug Out,” where they moved 54,000 troops from the U.S. to Europe in 24 hours in the mid-1960s as part of a NATO training exercise. He recalls just sitting in the bush and watching as the troops airdropped into Germany, with their vehicles in tow. With a laugh, Kyler described a Land Rover being dropped down and bouncing off the ground.
“It was interesting, a lot of interesting stuff,” Kyler said. “I got to see the border between East and West Germany and I tell you I wouldn’t want to be any poor bugger crossing that.”
One of the strangest things about serving in West Germany at the time was that there seemed to be a Russian graveyard across from every army base, he said. Every few months, a few soldiers would come by and one would mow the grass while the others would watch Kyler and his comrades with binoculars.
“We’d just grab our binoculars and wave to them,” Kyler remarked. “I’ll never forget it because you remember the good times, never the bad times.”
What Evans enjoyed the most about his time in the military was getting called upon to help out whenever there were any major fires or floods in the area. The sense of working together as a group has never really left him, which is why he joined the Legion to support his fellow veterans.
“I think it’s my duty to repay what they did for me when I was in the military,” Evans said.
When Kyler left the military, he became a heavy equipment operator, noting employers at the time didn’t recognize his military mechanic credentials. He eventually settled in Forest Grove in 1972 after receiving an offer to become the village foreman of Forest Grove.
He joined the Legion 12 years ago after his wife died. It wasn’t long before he was talked into doing maintenance and eventually met and befriended Evans. These days, Evans does most of the maintenance work while he joked Kyler is back to being a foreman supervising his work.
While the Forest Grove Legion now has fewer veterans than it once did, Evans said it remains a place for people to come for social support.
“We’ve got a great bunch of people in this Legion who support the Legion and one another,” Evans said.
Whenever Remembrance Day comes around Evans thinks of his uncles who both served in World War II. Donating a few hours of his time to show respect to them and everyone else who served is only right, he said.
“We gotta remember the people who have fought for us. That’s why we have one of the best countries in the world, as far as I’m concerned,” Kyler said.