The military is a career choice that can take young men and women down myriad paths. For two Big Valley men, each took parallel paths, one in the Navy and one in the Air Force.
Lorne Parkin and Bob Boswell are both heavily involved in their community as volunteers, including the Big Valley Legion. Boswell Joined up with the Navy in January of 1959. Parkin joined the Air Force in September of the same year.
“I was allergic to grain dust for one thing,” laughs Parkin, who grew up in Kitscoty when asked why he joined. “I saw a CF100 flying down the Vermillion River, and he pulled it straight up over the bridge. I was about 14 or 15 and I knew where I was going right from that day. I stuck to it in high school and joined up.”
He was almost 18 when he joined. His parents had to sign a waiver. He first trained in St. Jean in Quebec and then did his trade at Camp Borden in Ontario. That is where he trained on airframe.
Boswell, originally from Nova Scotia, did his basic training at Cornwallis and he joined as an apprentice.
“I had an uncle in the Navy and I really looked up to him,” said Boswell.
He was a Marine Engineer and his responsibility was ship propulsion, power generation, and maintenance. He started his career on the East Coast in Halifax. He served some time in Ottawa and then spent the remainder of his career on the West Coast.
Parkin’s career took him overseas on NATO tours. He was in France from 1964 to 1976 and Germany from 1983 to 1986.
“We basically did the same jobs as we did in Canada. But you would always train for the worst… we basically trained for nuclear war,” said Parkin.
Boswell remembers being issued a respirator and outfit when you would join a ship to protect themselves from a nuclear environment.
Boswell’s career took home all over the world on the high seas. He sailed all around South America, Europe, and Asia.
“We would train with other navies so if something did happen, we were prepared,” said Boswell.
The closest he came to engagement was at the height of the Cold War, his ship sailed to support the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“We were there to do what needs to be done. To an engineer, it was just another day. I had to get up and keep the fire burning in the boiler and keep the steam up,” he said.
Parkin said the closest he came to wartime conditions was while in Comox, where they supported the search and rescue.
“Whenever you had a search, you go all out, and aircraft hours didn’t matter,” he said.
Something that changed over his career was the diminishing size of the military.
“We had the third biggest Air Force after WW2, people don’t realize that. The wartime build-up was a lot bigger than most realize,” Parkin said.
Boswell agrees and said he saw the Navy shrink over his career. He said they had 400 ships in 1945. When he joined in 1959, there were 60. When he left in 1991, there were 25 vessels.
They also agree the Canadian Military was one of the best trained.
“I believe we had the best pilots,” said Parkin, adding they would often top US pilots at training competitions. Boswell agrees.
“We don’t have the best equipment, but we are really good at what we do,” said Boswell.
Both wholeheartedly loved their careers.
“I’d do it all again in a heartbeat,” said Parkin.
Boswell hasn’t been on the water since he retired.
“I was very fortunate, I enjoyed life on the sea,” said Boswell.
Today, they consider their work at the Legion as paying back for the veterans that came before them.