Sioux Lookout Legion has one-of-a-kind group of World War II veterans
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Sioux Lookout Legion President Kirk Drew confirmed the Sioux Lookout Legion has a one-of-a-kind distinction in all of Canada. The Sioux Lookout Legion is the only Legion to have three 75-year Legion members.
Long-time Sioux Lookout residents Adam Zarecki, Bill Maskerine, and John Cole Sr. all served during the Second World War, and their Legion memberships date back to their times of service.
“We’re the only, what they call, stone Legion in Canada that has three 75-year members. They’re actually going on 76 now, but there’s a Legion online that has more people but they’re not part of a Legion building or branch. We’re the only branch in Canada that has three 75-year members of the Legion. That was confirmed this past May. I was down in Fort Frances at our command meeting, I got a hold of Dominion Command, and they confirmed that we’re the only stone Legion, or branch Legion, that has that distinction right now,” said Drew.
“I think it’s a big thing, especially with the way (World War II) veterans are passing away now. There’s not that many of them around, so to have three World War II veterans that have been a part of the Legion for that length of time is quite the thing to have. It’s a good feather to put in your hat,” he said.
John Cole Sr., 96, and Bill Maskerine, 95, were born and raised in Sioux Lookout. Adam Zarecki, 95, was born in Thunder Bay, grew up in Ghost River, and settled in Sioux Lookout following the Second World War.
The three veterans briefly touched on their service history.
“I joined up when I was 19, so I’m pretty sure I served three years. The war ended in 1945, and I got out in September of that year. I was taking a course in Business College, and I joined the Air Force because my three brothers were in the Air Force… The town (Sioux Lookout) was under 2000 people and it was cleaned out. It was unbelievable the amount of people that volunteered (during the Second World War),” said Cole Sr.
“My older brother did 48 missions, but I think I did somewhere around 20. I flew (Avro) Lancasters. I mostly flew in Germany,” he said.
“I served three years, and I was in the North Atlantic. I was in the Navy. We sailed from St. Johns, Newfoundland to London, England and Ireland... I don’t know how to explain it, but I guess being a kid at 18 or 19 you have no fear. I was one of the fortunate ones that got over there safely and got back safely,” said Maskerine.
“I was a telegraph operator,” he added.
“I joined up in July of 1943 and I was discharged when the war was over. I never went overseas. I was in the Army, and I ended up in the Service Core,” said Zarecki.
When asked about the Sioux Lookout Legion and being a part of a rare nation-wide distinction, the three veterans had nothing but good things to say.
“The Legion has given me great memories. I was affiliated with the Sports Committee for around 25 years and I also ran the Legion kids hockey,” said Maskerine.
“That’s pretty good I guess. I’m proud to still be here and be able to take part,” said Zarecki.
“We have a good, healthy Legion. I think it’s an asset to the community,” said Cole Sr., who is a past Legion President and Secretary.
“When I think of associations in Sioux Lookout and different organizations that have come and gone, the Legion has been there. It’s been a real feature of Sioux Lookout. It’s been supported, and it serves a real purpose in Sioux Lookout. I’m very proud of the Legion,” Cole Sr. added.
“That’s what the Legion is for. It’s for veterans. It was created by veterans, and now the new veterans are starting to come back in to the Legion too. To have those guys speak about the Legion like that, it’s a major focal point for their lives and their careers,” said Drew.
According to their website, legion.ca, the Royal Canadian Legion shares, “Legion Branches are the cornerstone of communities across Canada, and provide one of the largest volunteer bases in the country. With 1,400 Branches from coast to coast to coast, our members provide local services and supports to build a stronger Canada. Whether helping local Veterans, supporting seniors, providing youth sports programs, raising funds, volunteering to help those in need, or simply offering a place to gather for fun and celebration, Legionnaires provide essential services in their communities.”
Drew said the Sioux Lookout Legion is seeing a new wave of veterans who served Canada during more recent wars. He said the biggest goal, moving forward, is to see the Sioux Lookout Legion remain as a community cornerstone and focal point.
“We have other veterans coming up from under the line from Korea, Vietnam; we have some from Afghanistan, Yugoslavia. All those guys are considered veterans too. They weren’t there during the First or Second World War, but they were certainly fighting for Canada in these wars. They’re still veterans too, and that’s what the Legion is all about,” said Drew.
“It’s great to see the community supporting the Legion and supporting the veterans. It’s a focal point of the community, and that’s what we’re trying to keep it as. We’re trying to keep it open and keep it running so it continues to be the focal point of the community for different functions, and of course Remembrance Day is the biggest one,” Drew continued.
This year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Sioux Lookout will see some changes compared to year’s past.
Due to renovations at Farlinger Park (the town beach), this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony will be at the Sioux Lookout Legion and feature an indoor parade as well as an indoor cenotaph.
“The ceremony is going to be held in the Legion this year. We’re not going to be going down to the cenotaph because, of course, you can see what’s going on down there… Even though it’s not going to be outside, per normal, it will be inside and it will be a good ceremony. I encourage everybody to come out and be a part of the Remembrance Day parade and ceremony because it’s something that cannot be forgotten… The sacrifices those guys made are why we’re here today in this country, and we can’t allow that to disappear and be forgotten about,” said Drew.
The ceremony will be beginning at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 at the Sioux Lookout Legion.