Trying to Join the Legion
My father was the engineering officer on an American destroyer during World War II, protecting convoys of merchant ships on their way to Britain through the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. He survived torpedo attacks and, later, strafing by German planes. I grew up with great respect for the men and women who participated in that struggle, and I almost always attend the Memorial Day service at the cenotaph downtown. Granted, that’s largely because I love to hear the bagpipes, but still.
So years ago when our local Canadian Legion moved to a spiffy new building and I realized I was nudging toward retirement, I thought it might not be a bad idea to sign up. Besides cheap beer and nifty flags, they have a great shuffleboard table, and I figured I could while away hours whizzing the little disks down the shiny table while drinking beer and swapping stories with veterans wearing their insignia and dripping with medals.
Despite my friend Al’s reaction (“You’re going to join what?”), I walked into the lobby last Saturday to pay my 40 bucks and be a genuine (well, associate) Legion member. Of course it wasn’t quite that simple.
First of all, the place was crowded. Not loud, mind you (the average age seemed to be pushing 75), but busy. I couldn’t get to the bar. So I walked into the kitchen where a couple of women (Legionettes?) were mashing something that looked like anchovy paste. I asked where I could sign up, and the group looked positively flummoxed. Finally one woman said, “We’ll just have to find Diane.” Sounded good to me, so off we went, first to the long table filled with men silently drinking glasses of Okanagan Spring pale ale. No one had seen Diane. Could she be in the (small cubicle closed off in the far corner) smoking room? my guide wondered. She walked over and peered through the smoke. No Diane.
The woman surveyed the room. There Diane was, sitting at a table on the raised section of the room up by the windows. I was led to the table, where Diane — I presumed — was one of two 30ish women drinking beer. They looked at me with a smudge of suspicion. “I would like to join the Legion,” I said smiling, looking at the older of the two. “The woman over there — ” I pointed with my chin at the kitchen “ — said I should speak to Diane.”
“You should,” the other woman said without a hint of a smile. “But you’re not. I’m Diane.” Hmm, I thought, this isn’t going very well.
I explained again that I wanted join. Diane sighed and reluctantly stood up. “Come on,” she said. I went back to the bar, where Diane reached over the counter and pulled out a green application form. I thanked her and took it. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.
“No. Use one of those pencils.” She glanced at the plastic box of Keno cards and yellow pencils. “And then bring it back to me.” Yes, sir, I thought. Or is it Ma’am?
I sat down at one of the tables, pulled out a stubby yellow pencil from the Keno box, and began going over the sheet. The first side was unremarkable enough — name, address, phone number. Whether I was a real veteran, the son/daughter of a veteran, or merely someone who wanted to join for the beer and shuffleboard.
I did the best I could with the tiny pencil and then turned the page over. I glanced at the first paragraph, printed over the line where I signed my name, and did a double take. I read it again. “I certify that I am not a fascist, communist or anarchist.” Holy smokes, I thought.
I took a deep breath. Jeez, I thought, I didn’t expect this. I haven’t had to sign anything like this since I managed to flunk my US draft physical in 1969. Well, I didn’t have any trouble with the fascist part. That has never been my political inclination and I don’t have much time for that lot. Plus, to be fair, I could understand how a veterans’ group might still harbor some resentment toward this crew. They really didn’t behave very well, did they? But how about the communist and anarchist part? OK, I figured, what was the phrase from the Joe McCarthy hearings? I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party. I felt reasonably comfortable with that (though I did think about adding an asterisk noting that I tended to lean pretty lustily to the left; I didn’t want to join on false pretenses). And since a card-carrying anarchist seemed like a contradiction in terms anyway, I shrugged and signed my name.
I found Diane, and she took my form. Was I the son of a veteran? Well, my father was in the US Navy… That didn’t count, I was informed curtly (no wonder NATO is in such trouble). OK, a mere associate member it would be. “You didn’t want my social insurance number?” I asked.
“No,” Diane said seriously. “We don’t conduct criminal checks.” Well, that was reassuring. That way they’d never turn up the fact that I was the illegitimate grandson of Leon Trotsky.
Diane signed — rather unenthusiastically, I thought — as the member that recommended me, I paid my $40, and walked out the front entrance.
As I was leaving I spotted Bob and Linda, two of my progressive friends. “Hi,” I said cheerily. Guess what? I just signed up as a member of the Legion.” That’s nice, they smiled. “But it was kind of weird. You know, I had to certify that I wasn’t a communist or an anarchist.”
Their eyes grew wide. “And you signed it?” they asked incredulously in perfect unison.
I shuffled my feet nervously. “Well,” I started lamely, “I, uh, I didn’t think it would do any harm.”
“That’s not the point,” Diane said sternly. “They have no business asking that. I’m not sure it’s even legal. And what the heck is an organization that prides itself in protecting our freedoms doing putting those restrictions on membership, anyway?”
“You’ve got a point,” I said miserably.
“Damn right she does,” Bob remarked, shaking his head slightly in disgust. “Really.”
I stared at my feet in embarrassment as they stalked off. I turned my head back to the entrance to the Legion and thought about marching back in, snatching the application off the bar, tearing it into confetti while singing “Last Night I Saw Joe Hill.”
I still haven’t received my membership. Diane did say it could take up to four weeks. I just hope they haven’t found out about my Marxist friend at UBC.
At the time he wrote this, Don Sawyer lived in a town in the interior of BC. He doesn’t want to divulge the name of the community for fear of retaliation.