A Second World War veteran received a special surprise on his 100th birthday when the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 56 Swift Current held a drive-by parade past The Meadows long-term care home to honour his service.
Long-time Swift Current resident Slim Thomas became a centenarian on June 10. He was joined by family members for the parade by Legion members, local dignitaries and emergency vehicles.
The event became a final tribute to Thomas, because he passed away the following day on Friday evening, June 11. His family gave permission for this story to be published.
His daughter Elaine Blake spoke to media on June 10 after the drive-by parade. She said it was memorable for the family to celebrate her dad’s 100th birthday and to see him receive this recognition from the Legion.
“It's very special,” she mentioned. “A 100 years, you don't see that very often, and having a parade like they had. It was incredible, that people cared that much. … We really appreciate it all.”
Thomas grew up in the town of Sturgis in east central Saskatchewan, and volunteered for service during the Second World War. He completed his training at Camp Shilo near Brandon, Manitoba, and then served for several years in the Army.
Blake said her father has never spoken much about his military service. The family lived in Regina before moving to Swift Current in 1964.
“He's been very, very involved in the community here,” she said. “He was involved with all the service groups. Legion, Lions, Elks, every one of them.”
He continued to have an active lifestyle after retirement and played golf every morning with three friends until he was 90 years old.
The parade arrangements were coordinated by Jason Tangen, the sergeant-at-arms for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 56 Swift Current.
“I've had the idea a couple of months ago,” he recalled. “We knew Slim's birthday was coming up. I thought it would be a great idea to put on something to do just to say happy birthday and thank you for your service, and I right away volunteered to do it as well.”
He felt it was quite straightforward to make the arrangements for the drive-by parade, particularly also because of the willingness of everyone to participate.
“Everybody I contacted was wholeheartedly in,” he said. “A big thanks to them. Obviously, I couldn't have done it without them. … It was a number of phone calls and e-mails spread over a couple of months. It was just a matter of making sure everybody was on the same page. It didn't take much to put together, really. I'm glad I was able to.”
According to Tangen it was a privilege to organize this event as a gesture to give recognition to the service of a veteran.
“It's an honour, really, just to know these veterans,” he said. “I've had a chance on a number of occasions to speak with Slim and he’s just a genuine class act to talk to, as they all are. I've known several of them over the years too. So very privileged to be a part of this.”
The parade route took the convoy directly past the house where Thomas lives. The vehicles carried on past other houses and the main entrance of The Meadows before returning for a second drive-by past the veteran.
“I hope we can do this in the future for others as well, because they all equally deserve it,” Tangen said. “I'm glad we were able to involve the rest of the residents of the Meadows here as well.”
He was thankful towards everyone who was willing to participate in the drive-by parade. The dignitaries were Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal, Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley, and Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer. The participating emergency services were the RCMP City detachment, the City of Swift Current and R.M. of Swift Current fire departments, and Hutch Ambulance Service.
Bob Dyke brought one of his vintage ambulances, a 1955 Dodge military ambulance. Buck Wagner came with his vintage military Jeep and motorcycle displayed on a trailer, and Legion member Andy Keys drove his military Humvee. Second World War veteran John Watson was a passenger in the Humvee. Green Braes Pipes and Drums pipers Heather Campbell and Neil McCrie provided the bagpipe music for the occasion. Sign Here Signs & Printing donated a large happy birthday sign that was installed on the front of the Humvee. Mike Koethler participated as a cadet representative, and various Legion members were part of the convoy. They are Val Tienkamp, Andy and Bonnie Moon, Jim Pratt, Rodger Ruf, and Dave Boucher.