As Remembrance Day approaches, Lieut. Stan Leschert will be honouring those who have served, both in and out of combat.
He didn’t serve himself, having missed active combat duty in the Gulf War by a hairsbreadth when his unit did not have enough tanks to deploy. But his five years of service in the British Columbia Dragoons and British Columbia Regiment was still rewarding, he said, and the army taught him things that have stayed with him. One of the biggest lessons was how to be a leader, not a tyrant, and the power of working together as a team. As a range safety officer, he also got to fire some “really cool weapons” safely.
“Some things totally sucked like sleeping in a hootchie while it’s snowing, you’ve got your full battle-rattle and you never ever let your weapon leave your side. That was cleaned before you were cleaned and some of the food was crappy but it was an awesome experience,” Leschert said.
After serving with the Dragoons, Leschert drove an armoured car with the reserves for 29 years before retiring to 100 Mile House this year, transferring to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 260. These days he focuses on volunteering at the Legion and amateur photography while enjoying the Cariboo.
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To him, Remembrance Day isn’t about glorifying his own service but honouring the service of his friends, whom he considers the real vets.
“They’re the ones who were at the pointy end of the stick. The rest of us are like a fire extinguisher, we’re there if you need us but we hope never to have to be used,” Leschert said.
Many of his friends, in fact, have come from the Legion over the years and it’s their stories and memories that Leschert holds close to his heart on Remembrance Day. Men like troop leader Bill Wharton, universal carrier driver Al Warrington and Smokey Smith who took out two Panzers and three squads singlehanded during the Battle of Ortona in Italy during WW2, Leschert recalled.
“Before I served (Remembrance Day) was cool, it was on TV. Afterwards, these are my friends I’m bloody well going to get down there,” Leschert said. “You gotta remember what happened, why it happened and who had to stop it. We’ve got a number of people here, they’re getting less every day, that have done it and made your life peaceful. There are a number of people in the wings who can be called if needed. We don’t dare forget the Canadian Rangers, the Indigenous, they’re trained and really skilled, in particular when search and rescue is required.”
Leschert, who joined the armed forces because it was something he always wanted to do, has worked with cadets over the years and has been an active and enthusiastic member of the Legion as he believes they offer a great service to local veterans.
He singled out 100 Mile House’s Joe Elliot, a representative for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who is reaching out to local vets to address unseen issues.
“There are really cool people (at the Legion) and most of them are down to fricking earth,” Leschert said. “The people (in 100 Mile) are incredible, very friendly. When they tell you to have a good day, they actually mean it.”
Having a place like the Legion where veterans can meet and chat is really important, Leschert said.
Moreover, the money they raise from the annual poppy campaign stays within the community and any excess given to local hospitals and other groups.
The regular Remembrance Day service is cancelled this year due to COVID-19 but residents can still pay their respects in a drive-by ceremony on Birch Avenue from 10:30 a.m.-noon.