TISDALE — For Warrant Officer Sheridan G. Ellingson, Remembrance Day means getting together with comrades.
“It starts with making plans, getting in touch with somebody I want to be with, someone I worked with, but doesn’t focus just being around guys I know,” said Ellingson, who had earned a Canadian Forces’ Decoration after 12 years of service. “It always ends with new guys who also serve and ask them their experiences, talk to them about how they’re doing now.”
Born in Moose Jaw, Ellingson was 18 years old when he joined Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 1989.
“I don’t have one specific memory of why,” Ellingson said. “At the time in the ’80s in Saskatchewan, in my view and what I heard from adults was there wasn’t a lot of career jobs happening and the economy was slow. I always liked to do things physically and be challenged.”
He got his wish, doing field work like soldiering, rifling, bayonets and machine guns.
“Every job has its pros and cons, it’s hard. Lots of times you’re wondering what you’re doing at a certain point in your life, but I’m sure everybody’s job and career has the same thing.”
Basic training took place in Cornwallis, N.S. for 10 weeks. Next Ellingson had 16 weeks of training in Wainwright, Alta.
This led to his first posting in Calgary, where he stayed for just a week before being sent to Norway for operation exercises with NATO for a month and a half.
After Norway he returned to Canada where he spent about a year training with regular battalion training.
It was about 1991 he was deployed overseas in Cyprus on a United Nations peacekeeping mission with the first battalion.
He continued to serve with the United Nations in Bosnia and Croatia, after which he returned to Canada for regular army training.
“One thing people don’t realize in the military is when you’re in the army, you’re never not training. It’s like university: the kid goes to school for three or four years and then learns stuff when they get to the job – same thing.”
When a new base opened in Edmonton, his unit was moved there.
Ellingson said he noticed that after Bosnia and Croatia the military expanded.
“The base in Edmonton absorbed a lot of money from the federal government and it’s what this army needed, or our western army needed anyway. We got it going pretty good there.”
In 1999, his battalion was deployed in Kosovo, Ellingson stayed back in Canada doing rear party support. His next deployment was in 2002, back in Bosnia with NATO.
In 2004, he was posted to be an instructor in Wainwright for five years.
“I would rather have been in Edmonton because my battalion in 2006 went to Afghanistan and I can say without me because I did 15 years with that battalion,” Ellingson said. “That was the first offense combat mission Canada did since the Korean War… I say I missed it, but that was probably not a bad thing anyway.”
Ellingson’s career ended at his 20 year mark in July 2009 when he was medically discharged due to a back injury.
That summer he moved to Tisdale with his family, where he lives today.
Ellingson said open communication between veterans and currently serving armed forces members is important to him.
“Some guys will talk to anybody about any experience, and it’s not being specific about details, it’s just about opening up and saying, ‘You’re in the military now, you’re an accepted member, you’re a brother, we’re here to support you, what do you want to know? What can we do to help?’”
When Ellingson was a serving member, he said he never made the effort to open that communication, a regret he now has.
“It’s hard, and I get it now. We want to talk to younger guys, but when I was a younger guy, private corporal in the military on Remembrance Day I didn’t want to talk to the older veterans. Not that I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to make the effort. It’s kind of overwhelming, you don’t know if you’re overstepping your bounds, if they don’t want to talk to you.”
Ellingson recalled being a young guy in Edmonton, with a Legion hall filled with thousands and only hundreds of those were currently serving members.
“Some of them were very open to talk but I didn’t take the initiative to step in and hear a lot of stories – I’m talking about Second World War, First World War, Korean Vets,” he said. “[I] never took too much time to get to know a lot of people, looking back I wish I would have. I know now from this end we love that idea to talk to young guys and hear what the army is doing nowadays.”
Back in his own service, Ellingson found himself hesitating, partially because he didn’t know what was appropriate to say, partially because of the social distinction made between peacetime soldiers and World War soldiers.
This changed when a veteran, Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, approached him in 1997. He had served in the Second World War.
“He had all the time in the world to talk to us. I was just a member of a group of a small group of guys listening to him,” Ellingson said. “He talked to us and invited us into parties we shouldn’t even be into because he’s a VC [Victoria’s Cross] winner and I said, ‘hey this is a pretty good guy, right?’”
To keep this connection going, Ellingson suggested both current serving members and veterans get out in the community and make themselves known.
“I think what they should do is get out on Remembrance Day, be seen. I know some don’t, for their own reasons and that’s their right. Get out, be seen and make yourself available. In a small community like we live here in Tisdale… I can say that I was asked a lot of good questions about who I was and where I’d been and stuff because I have five medals on my chest.”
If someone wants to talk to someone about their service, Ellingson said to ask them, “Where’d you serve? What branch were you in? What unit were you in?”
He said that this opens the communication and allows them to share what they want to share, while not pressing on details they may not want to talk about.
“That’s what we start with ourselves. When we’re in a room and recognize another veteran and he’s not in uniform, okay, ‘What did you do? Who did you work with?’”