GANDER, NL – Lew Pearce’s career in the Canadian Armed Forces began on July 19, 1963 when he and his friends decided to join the army.
“Following your peers was the normal thing to do in the 1960s,” said Pearce, and there was no regret in that choice after serving for 28 years.
“Life was pretty good – I got to see parts of the world that I would never have seen, and it provided a living for me and my family,” Pearce said.
And that meant the family moved when Pearce had a new posting, which occurred every three years, taking him to most parts of Canada but also on peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and Egypt.
With a young family in tow, Pearce’s wife Rita found it especially challenging when her husband was away on extended missions.
“Our youngest was sick for the first year of his life. So, when he was away, it was a lot (to deal with). We depended on our friends and neighbours – you had to, right?
“And when he came back, you’re like, thank God, but then he would be interfering with things you’ve already changed,” Rita laughed.
Pearce spent the first three years in the infantry division, but applied for a trade transfer to something mechanical.
“I was sick of digging foxholes,” Pearce chuckled, and adds, “I wanted a civilian trade, and being in infantry, there was no trade – you are a foot soldier. I chose mechanical because I always liked working on trucks and cars. I did that for 25 years.”
The hours were long and taxing, but Pearce acknowledged that basic training prepared the soldiers physically and mentally.
“Basic training was designed to push you to your limits – to go further than what you think you can do, and still do the job. You learn that you will never give up,” Pearce said.
“Sometimes you go 24 hours without sleep, sometimes longer. But you did learn to cope with it. You learn to adapt – your body does not want to, but you always finish your job first, and sleep after.”
Pearce recalled several proud moments in his career. He was part of the honour guard for the Queen when she was in Charlottetown, and part of the parade at the change of flag ceremony when Canada went from flying the Union Jack to the Maple Leaf. He was part of the changing of the guard in Ottawa.
As Remembrance Day draws near, Pearce believes it’s important for stories of war veterans be heard “so that you don’t make the same mistakes.”
“Remembrance Day is remembering what happened – remembering your friends, and friends that have passed on,” he said. “It is an act of remembrance. The poppy that you put on the war memorial – that is your act of remembrance.”