When I first met Willy he didn’t stop, just said “hi” and marched directly to the corner of the living room where he sat down in the apartment’s only chair.
He let out a grumbling sigh, stretched his legs and untied his army boots (on the carpet, I might add).
I didn’t really know what to expect from the guy. I knew Willy was coming straight from boot camp, but all the pictures I’d seen of him previous to that meeting were of a kid with shoulder-length hair wearing death metal T-shirts.
So it was a bit of a surprise to have a clean-cut, 19-year-old roommate getting up at 5 a.m. and talking about getting PT (physical training).
That didn’t last long.
By the end of the first week we were both sleeping until noon, classes at the University of Victoria be damned. His orderly habits quickly deteriorated and it’s easy to see why. For a guy who spent half the summer in the field, it’s no wonder he could eat cold chili from the can, leave it on the coffee table, and then finish it eight hours later. What’s the harm?
We were bad-ass bachelors, studying and drinking away the fall of 1997.
But we grew up.
Since then Willy’s kept up with the reserves, toured the Middle East a couple of times and even spoke at my wedding.
Mostly he’s worked domestically, rising through the ranks to warrant officer while toiling in less desirable places such as Petawawa, Ont.
I’ve followed his career at increments, hearing lots some years, and little during others. Often times it’s a window of reality into the Canadian Forces. A small window, but a window all the same. For me and some of my friends, Willy’s our only real tie to the military world and even so, it’s easy to forget that he’s seen things overseas I can’t even imagine.
If war came to B.C., as silly or scary as that seems, I would certainly need Willy to show me how to hold my gun, just the same as I needed him to light the nightly camp fires when we hiked the West Coast Trail.
The conversation would go something like this.
“First of all not-officer Paterson, it’s a rifle. Guns are big and are attached to things like tanks.”
You see, despite being the same guy who once brought 1,000 students dining in UVic’s cafeteria to hysterics with his karaoke version of Meredith Brooks’ “I’m a Bitch,” Willy gets pretty serious when it comes to army stuff.
He has awards and honours (most recently receiving the Chief of Defence Staff Commendation) of which I barely know the name.
I actually had to text him to find that one out.
Sometimes I’m stunned to learn the only guy who could ever out-sleep me (per hours in the day) is the same guy who couldn’t sit still while on tour. During one spell in the Middle East, Willy reported back that action was slow and he’d volunteered for the base’s snake patrol.
Having seen the guy once fight a vacuum and lose, I was a little curious about how he would deal with poisonous snakes.
“It’s not that big a deal. They call me and I smack it with a shovel,” he said at the time.
Okay, so maybe the vacuum didn’t win that fight after all.
I’m not saying all Canadian Forces full timers and reservists are automatic heroes.
But Willy kind of is. He’s good at being in the army, and I’m pretty sure he’s the exact type of guy we want in the army.
When summer’s forest fires flare beyond control, it’s not anyone who gets called in to help with the surrounding chaos, it’s people like Willy.
So cheers to you my friend.
If you didn’t catch our special Remembrance Day section called Courage, ask around. It came out on Wednesday (Nov. 9) and it’s packed full of great stories about everyday people doing not-so everyday things.
Travis Paterson is the sports reporter for Black Press.