For the fourth year in a row, freelance writer and photographer Sonja Drinkwater is telling the stories of veterans from the Alberni Valley. She approached three different veterans and asked them to share a photo from when they served with their respective military branch.
She then took a photo of the veterans as they are now.
If you know of a Port Alberni veteran who deserves to be featured in a future edition of Then & Now, please contact Sonja Drinkwater at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before Dan Speed joined the Commandos Pacific Motorcycles Club, he served in the Canadian Forces from 1987-2005. He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his father was in the Navy.
“We got posted to the National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, and then again to Esquimalt, B.C.,” Speed explained. “We lived on the base at Work Point Barracks, and that led me to join the military. Growing up all I ever saw was the regiment and thought how one day I will be in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).”
After graduating high school, Speed recalls walking past the recruiting office one day.
“My childhood dreams came back to me,” he said. “ I walked in and joined.”
Speed was sworn in April 1987. He flew to Cornwallis for 10 weeks of basic training, and upon graduation flew to the PPCLI regimental battle school in Wainwright, Alberta for another 16 weeks of “tough” training.
“We were training to kill, and it was serious business,” he said.
After this, he was assigned to the first battalion in Calgary, Alberta. In 1990, Speed went on a parachute course and volunteered to serve with the Canadian Airborne Regiment and Second Commando in Petawawa, Ontario. He was deployed to Somalia in December 1992, where he was with the Patrol Pathfinder platoon. The airborne regiment was disbanded in March 1995 and Speed was posted to Edmonton to form the PPCLI Parachute Company.
“We formed parachute companies in 1995 after the disbandment and we went to Bosnia in 1997,” he said.
In 1998, Speed went on to Trenton to become a parachute instructor and pathfinder instructor. For the next few years, he taught basic para and pathfinder courses. He did 85 jumps with the Canadian SkyHawks Parachute Demonstration Team at a training camp in Perris Valley, California, then went again the next year and did a Military Free Fall Parachute Instructors course.
After a parachuting accident in 2001, Speed was posted to 39 Brigade in Vancouver, B.C. in 2002. He was medically released in 2005 with the rank of sergeant.
“Yeah, it was definitely the glory days,” Speed recalls. “Like the Bruce Springsteen song—’pass me by, Glory Days.’ I consider myself so fortunate to have been a part of something so great and lived to talk about it. Like the last bastion of manhood.”
Now, Speed is a member of the Commandos Pacific Motorcycles, which is a non-profit club made up of active and retired Canadian Armed Forces and Allied military members. For Speed, the club provides camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
The club advocates for veterans and gives back to the community by doing projects like cleaning the crosses at the Greenwood Cemetery’s Field of Honour.