By Keith Lacey
While he “loved every second” of the 33 years he spent in the Canadian military, Larry Burkley said it bothers him greatly that so few lessons have been learned about the horrors of war.
“I don’t think we’ve learned much at all,” said Burkley, who has called Oliver home since 2000. “They are still fighting wars in places like the Congo and in Indo China and I worked on peacekeeping missions in those countries when wars were raging 30 and 40 years ago. “Sometimes I just don’t know what the hell is going on because we see the same things happening over and over again and more and more people getting killed. It bothers me a great deal.”
Born and raised in Toronto, Burkley said he never grew up wanting to be a military man, but is sure glad the circumstances in his life led him towards a thoroughly rewarding and successful 33-year career with the Canadian Armed Forces.
“The truth is I hadn’t finished high school and I couldn’t find a job,” he said smiling. “Back then, if you couldn’t find a decent job, many young guys joined the military and that’s exactly what I did.
“I was only going to stay for three years, but I ended up doing pretty well and was offered more money, so I decided I would extend that to six years and see how I felt. In between, I got married and had a couple of kids and then I couldn’t afford to leave.”
When he got married, Burkley remembers his military paycheque like it was issued yesterday.
“I was making $51 a month,” he said. “But back then, that was decent money and you could feed yourself and your family.”
The longer he remained in the military, the more he enjoyed it, said Burkley.
“It grew on me,” he said. “I really enjoyed the training and I also loved travelling and I got to do a ton of travelling throughout my career.
“Luckily for me, my wife (Jane) also liked travel and adventure and she never got upset when I got posted to another city or town and we had to start living in a new place.”
Four years after joining the Communications Command Unit in Kingston, Burkley was promoted from private to corporal and two years after that was promoted to a sergeant in the signal corps.
“I was fortunate enough to travel to every single army base in Canada,” he said. “Our communications team would visit every base and help install communications systems and train people how to use and fix the equipment. I loved the travel and I loved the job.”
After 27 years in communications, Burkley was offered a senior administration position in the communications command at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa and he spent six years in that position until retiring in 1989.
He didn’t retire gracefully. “I was basically told that I was too old and it was time to retire,” he said. “I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter.”
While he never engaged in battle, Burkley said he was part of several peacekeeping missions to Africa and Indo China. He looks back on his military career with very fond memories.
“I got to finish my high school diploma while in the military,” he said. “I also got to travel across Canada and around the world and I was able to provide a very good living for my wife and three children, so I can’t complain.
“I found my 33 years went by very fast as I really enjoyed what I did. If you liked to travel, as I did, it was great.”
Burkley said he hasn’t missed a single Remembrance Day ceremony in Oliver since he moved here 17 years ago and is looking forward to participating in the 2017 ceremony on Saturday.
“When I lived in Ottawa for all those years, I never missed a single ceremony and I haven’t missed once since moving here in 2000,” he said. “I think it’s very important to honour all Canadian soldiers who have fought for their country and it’s a special day for all veterans.”
Chris Yerburgh, a former president of Oliver branch 97 of the Royal Canadian Legion, is a good personal friend, he said.
“Believe it or not, I taught Chris back when he started studying at signal school in the military,” he said. “We crossed paths many times throughout our military career. I knew he was originally from this area and we met soon after I moved here to retire and we remain good friends.”