The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

As Good a Shot as Oswald

Rifle in hand, I heard Kennedy was murdered. Suddenly the map no longer fit the terrain. Somehow it led to Canada.

By Crawford Kilian 21 Nov 2003 |

Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He was raised in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and was educated at Columbia University (BA '62) and Simon Fraser University (MA '72). He served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965, and moved to Vancouver in 1967. He became a naturalized Canadian in 1973.

Crawford has published 21 books -- both fiction and non-fiction, and has written hundreds of articles. He taught at Vancouver City College in the late 1960s and was a professor at Capilano College from 1968 to 2008. Much of Crawford's writing for The Tyee deals with education issues in British Columbia, but he is also interested in books, online media, and environmental issues.

Reporting Beat: Education, health, and books

Crawford's Connection to BC: Though he was born in New York City, one of Crawford's favourite places is Sointula, a small town off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Twitter: @crof

Website: H5N1


On a chilly, overcast day forty years ago, I heard a prophet speak. He wore starched fatigues with the three chevrons of a buck sergeant.

We knew him only as Sgt. Williams. We had been in basic training at Fort Ord near Monterey, California, for less than a month, and he was one of our drill instructors. He was a lean, narrow-faced black man, and he terrified us. His fatigues were starched even in the damp fog rolling in from Monterey Bay. He looked at us with less than contempt. But he would make something of us, or we would wish he had.

On this Friday morning, November 22, 1963, he and the other drill sergeants had run us out from our barracks to the firing ranges. The ranges lay between the highway and the dunes fronting the bay. There, each day, we learned about loading, aiming, and firing an M-14 rifle at a target a couple of hundred meters away.

The U.S. army was still brooding then over Korea, where only a quarter of its men had even fired their rifles, let alone aimed them at someone. Their incompetence, just ten years earlier, had moved the generals to ensure that in the next war, by God, we would all fire, and at living targets. No one knew who the next enemy would be; for now, he was a generic "Charlie," probably Asian, but possibly Russian.

So even if we were fated for non-combat roles, the army would still program us to lock, load, unlock, fall into a prone firing position, and squeeze off a round when so ordered. So we did, and I still recall my joy when another drill sergeant praised me: "Good shooting, Number 14."

We had been learning how to adjust our sights; it wasn't a noisy exercise, but we'd done it well. Lunch time was approaching. We stood around in a chilly breeze, gossiping cheerfully until Sgt. Williams summoned us to stand around him.

His face was expressionless. "Gentlemen," he said, "the President of the United States and the Governor of Texas have just been assassinated."

We gaped at him. This had to be some test, I thought. We were supposed to fall into a prone firing position.

"I don't know any more than that," Sgt. Williams went on. "But I'll tell you this much. Any of you draftees think you're in for your two years and out again, if anything comes out of this, you are in for the duration."

He formed us into two files and double-timed us back to the mess area, a mile or so away. We recruits took our lunch from the cooks and ate it at picnic tables overlooking a firing range. The drill sergeants were in a nearby area, and one had a transistor radio. Various recruits, on various pretexts, managed to walk by the radio. Then they reported on what they'd heard: someone shooting from an overpass, motorcycle cops, the babble of a media with a big story and no facts.

After lunch the sergeants moved us into a set of bleachers for a lecture before the afternoon's firing practice. After the lecture, I stood at a firing position, my M-14 lying on the ground before me and my recruit coach standing just behind me. The sun had finally burned away the fog. I squinted three hundred meters west to the targets, and the dunes behind them.

In the middle of the range stood a wooden tower perhaps thirty feet high, where the rangemaster surveyed us. We waited patiently for his command over the loudspeakers. Instead we heard the phone ring, and his answer. The loudspeaker cut off. When it came alive again, the rangemaster ordered the drill sergeants to move us off the range and march us back to the parade ground.

I picked up my rifle and ejected the clip. We formed up, unloaded weapons on our shoulders, and each in turn swore to a sergeant: "No brass, no ammo, sergeant!" No shell casings, no live bullets, nothing that might make us a danger to ourselves or our comrades.

Then the drill sergeants -- Sgt. Williams, Sgt. Manalo, Master Sergeant Flanders -- ran us back off the ranges, through the underpass below the highway to Monterey, and back over the dunes to the parade ground. We were still raw and out of shape, unable to run far. But as the guys ahead of us scrambled up a sandy slope, we yelled at them: "Hurry up! Hurry up!"

I wonder why we were in such a hurry to meet our new future. Some of us were already doomed to an early death, and all of us would now lead lives utterly different from what we had imagined. I would spend the rest of my hitch typing the orders sending other young men to Vietnam, and no doubt some of the names I typed on my IBM electric are now engraved on the Wall's panels for 1964 and 1965. I myself, the world's slowest draft dodger, would eventually come to Canada, clutching a discharge that vouched for my honourable conduct in my country's service.

I left basic training in January 1964 with the rank of sharpshooter, despite my myopia and my lack of interest in firearms. So I was in theory as good a shot as Lee Harvey Oswald. But like all those millions of other boys, trained by the best educational institution in history, I would aim not at my commander in chief, but at the mysterious Charlie across the sea -- if he ever appeared in my sights.

In the fall of 1965 I left the army, and less than two years later I was a landed immigrant in Vancouver. A life I had never imagined unrolled before me, and not a bad one: a good job in a good place, a wife happier here than she'd ever been back home, daughters growing up and achieving their own successes.

But I still see Sgt. Williams on that chilly Friday morning, scanning us with his expressionless eyes. We would be in for the duration, he prophesied, and the duration has been the rest of our lives.

Crawford Kilian has taught at Capilano College in North Vancouver since 1968. He is the author of 20 books and many articles.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll