They talk with a certain nonchalance about those days in the 1940s.
Chuck Doyle, a young man of 17-years, with a stomach full of gusto just aching for the chance to serve his country.
Ken Minifie too an eager 20-year-old in 1942, his eyes on the sky as he enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The pair, perhaps Kitimat’s last remaining World War 2 veterans and both in their 90th decade, are quick to admit that a lot of their inspiration in those days was the naïvety of youth, a sense of being indestructible.
Surely there may have been some benefit in those days to having the bravado of a teen or 20-something. In 1942, when Minifie signed up for the air force, the world was in its third year of the second world war. There would still be two more years by the time Doyle signs up for the army.
There’s certainly no shortage of knowledge about what took place from 1939 to 1945, another dark note for the history books, which followed practically on the heels of the first World War, the ‘War to end all Wars.”
The memory of that first global conflict was not lost on Doyle and Minifie who were more than aware of the immense loss of life.
But as Doyle recalls, being so young, he never held the belief he’d ever be shot.
To spoil the end, Doyle says he ended his time in the war being in a hospital for eight months, but he doesn’t elaborate on what put him there.
Doyle, who would retire from military life with the rank of sergeant, actually had aspirations to being in the air force like Minifie but, in one of the great ways his generation and today’s is the same, his mother ended up calling the shots on that matter.
“My dad had just got killed a couple of years before in a plane crash, and so my mom wouldn’t sign the papers,” he said. “I threatened to leave home, a whole bunch of things. I says ‘I’m going to do it when I’m 18 anyways.’ She says ‘Well at least you’re going to live for another year.’ That’s how dumb teenagers are. My dad gets killed a couple of years prior to that and I turn around and want to do that.”
Minifie worked his way through air training before concluding with air gunner training and placement with the 51 Squadron. He said he was in the air doing bombing raids just ahead of the D-Day invasion.
He participated in seven bombing runs until his plan was shot down over Holland.
He said about half of the crew of seven made it out alive.
“The pilot and the engineer and the tail gunner didn’t make it, they didn’t have time to get out,” he said.
The survivors hid until evening until they felt safe traveling to a nearby city hoping to connect with the Holland underground resistance, but somehow they all got turned over to the Germans and were held as prisoners of war.
“We were liberated by the Russians,” he said, this at the tail end of the war.
He was held in Breslau, Poland, but he said the Germans marched him and others to Berlin, 250 kilometres away, before the Russians could free them. That march took place in the middle of winter.
“It was what they called the death march,” he said. “But we got through it.”
For Doyle, he recalls his process of getting in to the war as a “comedy of errors.”
Notwithstanding his desire to enter the air force which never materialized, he said he was made a lance corporal only two weeks in to his training in Alberta.
He said he went to Calgary and became an instructor in advanced infantry.
“A lot of the guys I trained, I got to know them quite well,” he said. “The last group I instructed, I wanted to go overseas with them. That’s where the funny stuff began.”
Sending an instructor overseas isn’t typical, he said, given the training received to be able to train others.
“I went to see the Major,” he said. “I asked for permission to go overseas with these guys and he said ‘no way, we don’t train instructors and have them working for us and then just let them go.’”
Proving his rebelliousness didn’t end with his mother, he said to the Major that he simply would stop working. “In the army you don’t tell Majors that, it’s not done.”
He said the Major threatened him with ‘pearl diving’ duty for the rest of the war, which is essentially low level grunt work.
He managed to get an audience with his Colonel after and was offered to get training to be a commissioned officer.
“I wasn’t interested in that, I wanted to go overseas,” said Doyle. So I got an idea. He says, ‘Don’t you want a commission?’ I says ‘Yeah, I’d like to have a commission. But I’d like to get mine like you did. On the field.’
“I didn’t know whether he did or he didn’t but you should have seen his eyes light up. ‘You can go, my boy! You can go.’”
So began Doyle’s engagement in the war.
His tour took him to Holland and Belgium, before he was sent to that hospital, Number 11 General Hospital, for eight months in England.
“Then, that was it. I came home.”
The stories from Chuck Doyle and Ken Minifie come like fantastical tales, not surprising that the living history of the World Wars is fading, leaving behind the books and, perhaps with the most publicity, the Hollywood movies.
The two, though, do see not only Canada’s newest emerging generation but also its newest threats.
That threat, they say, comes from the terrorist group ISIS.
“If the Canadian government would give me the wherewithall, I’d go and shoot a bunch of those ISIS. I wouldn’t hesitate two seconds. And I’d make damn sure I’d got a few of them before they got me,” said Doyle.
Minifie isn’t shy to remind Doyle he is in his 90s.
“Yeah, but you couldn’t walk there,” he replies.
Both agree ISIS is a huge threat, at least in terms of their general brutality.
“These guys are worse than Hitler,” said Minifie, no soft word from a World War II veteran. “These [ISIS] kill anybody.”
Doyle adds, “Hitler was an angel compared to these ding-a-lings.”
Doyle used to visit Kitimat’s schools and talk to them about World War 2.
He saw it as a way to remind the kids about Canadian values, and what had to be paid to maintain them.
“I used to go down to the different schools and talk to the kids and explain to them as best I could. You didn’t tell them anything gory…but you wanted to let them know why they have the things they have today, and about all of the people that didn’t make it back. This is why we have Remembrance Day. And that applies to me just as strong as it ever did.”
Minifie said the details are all available, but “As time goes by they leave the seriousness of it out because it was too long ago. But if you get back in to the same situation we’d be in big trouble. That’s for sure.”
Doyle thinks of what was at risk back in World War II for
“The young people, they’ve lost their lives for the freedoms that we have. The freedom of choice, the freedom of speech, freedom to gather. If Hitler won the war, you wouldn’t have that. There’d be a lot of people not around today.”