As a youth program turns 75, one family reflects on how it changed their lives forever
The 155 Borden Gray Air Cadet Squadron’s 75th Anniversary Weekend, to be held May 5 through May 7 in Sault Ste. Marie, will be one that brings back many memories for two members of a well-known local family.
Five brothers – Raymond (Ray), Robert (Bob), Bryan, Clifford and Clyde Healey – took their turns serving with the 155 Squadron between 1949 and 1965.
Clyde, the only Healey brother who still resides in Sault Ste. Marie, said he joined the cadets to become a squadron band member.
“I was learning to play the drums and after several weekends of going to drumming practice, the instructor suggested I might have more luck fishing on a Saturday than drumming,” Clyde chuckled.
Clyde, now 70, joined the cadets with Clifford, his twin brother, in September, 1960.
“It was our love of flying that brought us to air cadets versus the army or sea cadets,” Clyde told SooToday.
“Wednesday nights were a tradition in our house, shining shoes, pressing uniforms, having an early supper so we could get down to the Armoury for seven o’clock.”
Clyde said there was always a friendly rivalry between he and Clifford within the cadets, including matters regarding promotion.
Clifford became a Warrant Officer First Class, Clyde a Warrant Officer Second Class.
“It was that first year when he got that edge,” Clyde said.
Clyde, like brothers Bob and Bryan, each said being a member of the squadron shaped their lives and characters.
“There are a number of things that develop as a result of being a part of that organization or any similar organization,” Clyde said.
“One is independence, you develop an ability to do things by yourself, but at the same time you’re part of the team, and you can be a leader or a follower within the team. You can develop as a leader.”
“You develop self discipline, the ability to communicate with other people, especially older people because of our interaction with the officers. You develop a confidence in your abilities and the self discipline to accept challenges in life.”
“I saw that reflected in my adult life,” said Clyde, who worked in administrative roles with the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education (now the Algoma District School Board) and later as a vice president with the PUC.
He later joined the 49th Field Artillery Regiment, which he twice led as its commanding officer.
He is still associated with the 49th as its Honorary Colonel.
“The relationships that develop in air cadets, interestingly enough, seem to stay,” said Bryan Healey, speaking to SooToday from his Nanaimo, BC home.
“I went through a career in air cadets with my sons and daughter, they’re in Ottawa and they’re still talking to the friends they made in air cadets on a regular basis,” Bryan said.
Bryan, now 75, served with the 155 Squadron from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s, as a Warrant Officer First Class.
Bryan earned his pilots license at 16.
“The cadets shaped me quite a lot with discipline, to take responsibility for myself and my actions.”
After working for five years as a teacher, Bryan joined the RCAF in 1968.
He also served with a separate Air Cadets squadron while stationed in Ottawa.
He served as an air force pilot for 10 years (reaching the rank of Captain) before going into civil aviation.
He retired in 2012.
Robert (Bob) Healey has one very clear memory of his time with the cadets.
He was the victim of a pedestrian/vehicle collision on the way back from a cadet meeting at the Armoury on Pine Street.
Bob recalls the accident happened on his 15th birthday.
He was hospitalized for a year.
“I wound up in the hospital, all ripped and torn…I never fully recovered, I’ve got a bit of a limp, a real bad scar, but at 78 years old I’m not complaining,” Bob said.
The former cadet said he definitely has some pleasant memories of the 155 Squadron.
“I remember going to cadet summer camps every year…(and) I remember Tommy Bailey, he started the pipe band and wanted every kid to do the best they could.”
He reached the rank of Acting Warrant Officer.
“Air cadets made me realize I had to work hard…it certainly made me understand discipline,” he told SooToday by phone from his home in Bala, Ontario.
“I probably wouldn’t be half the person I am today if I hadn’t been an air cadet.”
He later studied electronic engineering and worked in that field until his retirement two years ago.
Bob enjoyed the experience of flying a Harvard training aircraft and a T-33 jet (produced in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s).
The oldest Healey brother, Raymond, died of natural causes seven years ago.
Ray lived in Toronto, where he worked as a senior partner with KPMG.
Sadly, Clifford Healey, Clyde’s twin brother, died with the Royal Canadian Air Force while on a rescue mission Nov. 2, 1971.
Clifford, who went on to be a RCAF Captain, died along with seven other members of his squadron when their DC-3 Dakota crashed during a supply drop to a stranded pilot in the area of Paulatuk, Nunavut.
“He was nicknamed ‘Hawkeye’ because he had been very successful as a search and rescue pilot,” Clyde said.
Clifford was 25 when he died.
Clearly, one can call the Healeys a 155 Squadron family, so it’s not surprising the three surviving brothers each recommend cadets for young people.
“It’s free,” Clyde said.
“It’s an organization that provides training to individuals, and as a result of that free membership, you get to go to summer camps, take courses, and also go on trips to other NATO countries like England, Germany, Denmark…these are all experiences that expand one’s life and way of looking at things, and it’s of no charge to the family to do it.”
“I’d absolutely recommend joining cadets, for a lot of reasons,” Bryan said.
“The discipline is greater than anything these days…and I personally think that discipline is what’s missing in a lot of our society now.”
“The cadets run the show, basically…the Chief Warrant Officer is the man on the floor, and (senior) cadets provide help, instruction, direction, leadership, to get the (junior) kids to do the things that need to get done.”
“I think the cadets, the army, navy and air cadets, are a great thing for young boys and girls to join,” Bob said.
“They learn how to work with each other, in groups. Kids today don’t do that much. In fact, they hardly talk to each other at all.”
“I never did think having girls in cadets was a great thing, but I’ve seen what the girls are doing and they’re doing a tremendous job,” Bob said.
No mention of the Healey boys and their role with the squadron would be complete without mentioning their mother, Lucy.
“Because of her boys being involved, she was with the Ladies Auxiliary, provided lunches and raised money for the cadet program. She got involved in 1952 and was involved with the cadets for 60 years,” Clyde said.
Lucy Healey passed away in her 101st year, Mar. 26, 2015.
“When we were cadets, she used to keep a scrapbook of all the articles and photos that appeared in the paper.”
Two volumes of clippings and photos were donated to the cadets.
So Lucy was, in a sense, the squadron’s historian?
“That’s a moniker they could give her,” Clyde chuckled.
For more information on the 155 Borden Gray G.C. and events taking place on the weekend of May 05-07, visit its 75th anniversary webpage.