Every year Canadians gather and bow their heads in silence for two minutes on Nov. 11 to honour and remember those who have fought for the country.
But for Gene Sheplawy, one day of remembering isn’t enough.
Sheplawy had a 30-year career in the Royal Canadian Navy and now lives in Colwood with his wife of 63 years, Anne.
He has a long beard and speaks decisively about his time in the Navy, reading through a sheet that details his many years of service.
“I was on 10 ships and two submarines in my brilliant career,” Sheplawy said.
Originally from Edmonton, Sheplawy said he joined the Navy when he was 18 years old because he was in need of work.
It was the year 1949 and Sheplawy walked by a sign that read “Join the Navy, see the world”. He said he picked up the papers, filled them out and went through with it.
“That’s how I joined the Navy,” Sheplawy said.
He first went to Nova Scotia for training and then moved out to Greater Victoria to take a cook’s course. After a few months, Sheplawy was sent to his first ship — a minesweeper with a crew of about 50.
As time went on, Sheplawy moved to different ships and submarines and got married along the way. Victoria was his home base.
“I’ve been up and down the West Coast,” Sheplawy said.
Sheplawy also volunteered to serve in the Korean War and made journeys via submarine in Australia.
Towards the end of his career Sheplawy went to Colombia on what he remembers to be a very good ship.
“It was the second-best ship…I was on there for two years,” Sheplawy said. “It was a darned good ship. Good crew, good captain, everything.”
It was on that ship that Sheplawy received a Serviceman of the Year award. He said it was a real honour to receive it and still has a photograph and a write-up from when he was given the award.
Sheplawy said he was 15 years old when the Second World War ended. He said he had five uncles in the war and his wife had two brothers in the war, one of whom was killed.
He said he participates in the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Campaign every year with the exception of this year and last due to a knee surgery he had.
“I believe in the Legion and what they do for people,” Sheplawy said.
Sheplawy gets teary-eyed thinking about the many people who have sacrificed their lives for the country. He said their sacrifices mean a lot to him.
“For so many people [remembrance] is a one-day affair,” Sheplawy said. “One day and it’s forgotten…but that’s the way life goes.”