Feature photo by Liam Norris
5072 George D. Knill – Class of 1961 –
KNILL, George It is with heavy hearts that the family of George Knill announce his passing on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at St. Peter’s Residence in his 80th year. Predeceased by his wife of 34 years Margaret “Peggy” Knill, his parents Elizabeth “Betty”, Archibald “Archie” Knill, and his sister Gail Knill. Survived by his daughter and son-in-law Melissa and Jeff Mason and stepfather to Nicole Bakti. George was an esteemed graduate of RMC in Kingston, ON, a beloved math teacher for the HWDSB and a celebrated football coach for many Hamilton city schools and organizations. Visitation will take place at Dodsworth & Brown – Ancaster Chapel (378 Wilson St. E., Ancaster) on Sunday, August 26, 2018 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., and on Monday, August 27, 2018 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Funeral service will take place at the Funeral Home Chapel on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 1 p.m. Cremation to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Alzheimer Society of Canada or The Heart and Stroke Foundation would be appreciated by the family. A special thank you to the staff at St. Peter’s Residence for providing excellent support and care.
5072 George (The Bee) Knill by 5045 Ralph (The Ghoul) Awrey
I’m sorry I can’t be at the funeral service to talk about George but I hope that whoever reads this “script” knows how much I appreciate their efforts.
These are a few notes of my remembrance of George in the years we had some contact. George and I both lived in the east end of Hamilton in the war time housing area. The houses were built as temporary refuge for families during WW2 and were to be demolished after the war. So they were of flimsy construction, tiny and cold as hell in the winter. Demolishing never happened as the houses were needed after the war.
George and I lived a few blocks apart and went to the same elementary schools and Delta Secondary School.
My remembrance begins after we left Delta.
College Militaire Royal de St. Jean (CMR)
George (The Bee) Knill lived a few blocks from me in the famous war time houses. George was nicknamed The Bee because he buzzed around the base ball diamond and soccer field like a bee bussing around flowers. He and I and a few others applied for entry into the College Militaire Royal de St. Jean. At CMR we could take grade 13 without high school French. After three years we’d go on to the Royal Military College in Kingston. In those days, if you didn’t have high school French you couldn’t get into many universities, so CMR was a nice compromise. Only George and I got accepted. The day the telegrams arrived from National Defense George rode his bike over to my house. He was in a dither. “I don’t want to go to this joint!” I told him that he had no choice. He had an official telegram and that was that. He believed me and off to CMR we went in late August or early September of 1956. We traveled by train from Hamilton to Montreal and by bus from Montreal to St. Jean. We were ushered onto the parade square where a mean old Drill Sergeant had at us – our first exposure to the process by which civilians were conditioned to the military life and ethos. George Knill was given a particularly hard time. He wore a new suit and white buck shoes. I thought he looked pretty spiffy but the Drill Sergeant didn’t agree and ripped into George unmercifully about the shoes. That night (or perhaps the second night) George snuck into my room after curfew. He was going to literally go over the wall and leave CMR. He wanted me to go with him. I told him that this was desertion and if we were caught we’d be shot. He believed me. I don’t think The Bee believed The Ghoul about anything thereafter.
My only remembrance of an off campus activity with George was an old fashioned Quebecois sugar bush party somewhere near St. Jean. George and I were taken to the party by our roommates and introduced to the sugaring process, Quebec women and big bottles of beer. I have a photo taken then which shows us pissed to the gills but happy. How we got there and how we got back to the barracks are buried deep in my memory.
Now to nick names. George and I were given ours by a Delta classmate. George (The Bee) Knill and Ralph (The Ghoul) Awrey brought this process to CMR. Like two mad men we proceeded to coat CMR with nicknames. Peter (Dummy) Dumbrille, Dent (Fils) Harrison, Mike (Moose) Black, Bill (Circe) Lee, Bolduc Under Glass, etc. etc.
Then off to RMC in Kingston.
The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC)
As a senior I was assigned to Moose’s flight. George Knill got one stripe as a flight leader of third year cadets. George was a floor below us which didn’t prevent me and others from annoying him with requests for math help. He became our unwilling, unpaid math tutor specializing in statistics. George blossomed in mathematics at RMC. Buried deep within was a math gene waiting to emerge. I like to think that by harassing George for tutoring I helped him along this path.
We graduated from RMC in 1961. George went into the Royal Canadian Navy and I into the Royal Canadian Air Force. Neither one
of us were career military types so we went on to other careers after completing our obligatory service..
George became a High School teacher and math text wizard. Many of his books are used in Ontario High Schools today. Well done for a poor kid from the east end of Hamilton.
I didn’t hook up again with George until we both started to go to RMC reunions. The most memorable was our 25th reunion in 1986. We got reacquainted with old friends and spent time together at future reunions and on several social occasions.
Sadly, I learned from Peggy about George’s dementia several years ago. When an old Navy friend, Peter Dumbrille, was in Toronto we arranged to see George at Regina Gardens with Peggy. We took him out to Tim Hortons and spent several hours chatting about events from 50 years earlier at military college and in the navy. Not long after that visit Peggy died and I was kept up to date on George by Nicole Batki. She was a fount of information on George’s status and situation. I always passed it on to George’s RMC mates. They were grateful to have this window on George. It was apparent that Nicole loved George and helped him through his troubled period at Regina Gardens. One of George’s mates called Nicole and Angel.
Now our dear George is gone.
Rest in peace my friend.
Senator John McCain was a RMC Honourary Degree Recipient.
John McCain received his RMC Honourary Doctorate in Military Science in June 2013. The HonDoc was present by the Chancellor and MND, the Honourable Peter McKay in Washington. Senator McCain was recognized for “his dedication to our countries’ bilateral relationship and to his extensive work in promoting international security”.
CITATION – SENATOR JOHN SIDNEY MCCAIN III
Naval aviator, war hero, United States Senator, candidate for the Presidency, good friend of Canada, John McCain has demonstrated, over many years, the best qualities of military and civilian public service traditions, including unflinching leadership and service beyond the call of duty, both to the United States and, through his commitment to the Halifax International Security Forum, to this country and the world. He serves as a tremendous example of what can be accomplished through a life devoted to honourable service in war and peace.
M. le Chancelier, pour son service exceptionnel et pour son leadership à son pays et en tant qu’officier de l’armée, puis en tant que législateur dévoué, sage et compatissant de stature internationale, je vous présente John Sydney McCain III, afin qu’il reçoive de vos main le titre de Docteur en sciences militaires, honoris causa.
Farewell to a Patriot – Reflections on the life of John S. McCain III, 1936 – 2018
By 12570 Mike Kennedy
26 August 2018
Last night, the United States Naval Academy bade farewell to a man who will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the institution’s greatest sons. After a remarkable career of public service that spanned over 60 years as a naval aviator, war hero, and elected official, John S. McCain III departed this life, and entered into the arms of God. Resolute in the principles he believed in and passionate about the nation that he was a part of, McCain’s life story was an extraordinary journey that took him from the Naval Academy to a squalid prison cell in Hanoi, thence to over 30 years in the United States Senate, and at this time ten years ago, on the very brink of capturing the highest office in the land.
The details of McCain’s life story have already been told many times, and do not bear repeating here. In the spring of 2008 at, as McCain was gearing up for his bid to make a run at the White House, I wrote an article offering some personal reflections on his life and accomplishments, which you will see in the paragraphs that follow. As we now know, though he did eventually secure the nomination, his quest for the Presidency ultimately ended in failure. In the Presidential election that was held in November 2008, McCain was resoundingly defeated by Barack Obama, who when on to serve two terms as America’s Chief Executive. Bloodied but certainly not unbowed, McCain returned to the Senate, where he continued to serve until his death a short while ago.
Right about the time this article appeared in the print edition of Veritas in the summer of 2008, while on a family vacation I had occasion to visit the Naval Academy, a place that might truly be described as being John McCain’s spiritual birthplace. I saw Bancroft Hall, the enormous dormitory where McCain spent four of his most formative years, and the Herndon Monument, which in the early summer of 1955 McCain and his classmates would have scaled as the symbolic ending of the collective servitude and misery of their plebe year. As fate would have it, my visit coincided with the Academy’s Parents’ Day, which marked the first occasion that members of the new recruit class were allowed to go into town, and receive visits from their families. In congratulated some of them on completing the first phase of their training, I could not help but be deeply impressed by these young Americans, and at the same time, reminded of my own experiences as a recruit at RMC in 1976.
As the following article notes, over the course of his lifetime John McCain made some mistakes he later deeply regretted, and encountered his fair share of setbacks and failures. He made lifelong friends and bitter enemies, and there were some like myself who deeply admired him, and undoubtedly others who thoroughly detested him. But whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that this was a man who was truly the real deal, one who survived arduous ordeals that would have broken many a lesser man, and someone who rightly or wrongly never failed to stand up for what he believed in, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
In the opening paragraph his 2005 book Character is Destiny, McCain began by writing “I don’t believe in destiny.” He may not believe in destiny, but I do. I’ve seen it innumerable times over the course of my own life. And far be it from a guy like me to call into question the wisdom of the immortal Sir Charles.
And so what then was John McCain’s destiny ? Ultimately it was to live a life that at times could be deeply flawed, but in the end remained faithful to the notion of selfless service. He began his life by surviving within the austere and unforgiving confines of the Naval Academy; he ended it by serving in his elected office literally until drawing his last breath on this earth. He readily admitted himself to be a man of many failings (who isn’t, that is any good ?), but at the same time, he was a loyal and courageous patriot who remained steadfastly devoted to serving his country and the ideals that it stood for, and the American people that he had been entrusted to defend.
As you read the words that follow, I know the Ex-Cadets of the Royal Military College of Canada will join me in saluting McCain for his service and his sacrifice, and in expressing our heartfelt condolence on his passing to our comrades of the United States Naval Academy.
Rest in peace, John, and thank you for your service. We’re all in this together.
From the Summer 2008 Edition of Veritas
Fifth from the Bottom – Reflections on the remarkable life of John McCain, and the lessons to be learned.
By 12570 Mike Kennedy
Victoria Day, 2008
In the spring of 1958, a group of 899 young men assembled at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis to receive their diplomas and accept commissions as newly-minted Navy and Marine Corps officers. Presiding over the ceremony was President Dwight Eisenhower, who as a young man in 1911, had passed the entrance exam for the Academy but was denied admission because he was beyond the age of eligibility.
Seated among the hundreds of white-clad midshipmen in attendance at the graduation exercises was a young man who represented the third generation of one of the nation’s most distinguished naval families. John Sidney McCain III, then aged 21, was the son of a Navy Captain who had been one of the service’s most successful submarine commanders during the Second World War. He was also the grandson of a much-admired Admiral who died of a heart attack only a few days before Japan’s unconditional surrender in September 1945. No one knew it at the time, but McCain’s father and grandfather would in time become the first father and son in U.S. naval history to wear the four stars that denote the rank of full Admiral.
Young McCain entered Annapolis in 1954 with a strong tradition of service in his blood, but his record of achievement at the Academy fell far short of what might be expected of someone with his distinguished lineage. Far from excelling in either the academic or military aspects of the program, McCain stood fifth from the bottom of his class and by his own admission considered himself lucky to graduate. His four years at the Academy had been characterized by almost never-ending conflicts with his company officer, a by-the-book Marine Captain who was infuriated by McCain’s insouciant attitude and unabashed contempt for the institution’s more picayune rules. The awarding of his diploma had been preceded by several close brushes with expulsion, and in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers McCain recalls that on graduation day “relief was the emotion I felt most keenly.”
In all likelihood, none of the senior officers who had known him at Annapolis expected that John S. McCain III would amount to very much in his life. Certainly, if any of them had been asked to identify a future President-in-waiting among the Class of 1958, McCain would have been one of the very last members of that group to be pointed out.
But today, half a century later, John McCain now appears poised to take a run at attaining his nation’s highest office. If his tenure at Annapolis was undistinguished, there is little doubt his life story thereafter has been a remarkable study in character, courage, and dedication to the ideals of service. It is also one that offers some valuable lessons for everyone in the RMC community that are worth remembering as we strive to build a better future for our own country.
“If my old company officer from Annapolis were here this evening, he would say that in America, anything is possible.”
– John McCain to Larry King, Larry King Live, 14 September 2008
If McCain was a less than exemplary midshipman during his time at Annapolis, at least he came by it honestly. As Faith of My Fathers recounts, McCain’s father Jack shared the same proclivity for getting into trouble during his own years at the Academy in the late 1920’s. The recipient of frequent disciplinary action for various and sundry violations of the rules, McCain Sr. bore his punishments stoically and refused to back down when he thought he was right. His profile in the Class of 1931 yearbook noted that “Sooner could Gibraltar be loosed from its base than could Mac be loosed from the principles he has adopted to govern his actions.”
Ten years later, the tenacious disposition which had so frequently put McCain Sr. at odds with superiors during his USNA days would endear him to the officers and men of the USS Gunnell, the submarine he commanded during the Second World War. “Captain Jack”, as he was known to his sailors, was an exceptionally determined and resourceful officer whose personality was ideally suited to the demanding art of submarine warfare. McCain Sr. successfully led his crew through five arduous combat patrols, and after the war was described by his former executive officer, Joe Vesey, as being “ …the greatest leader of men I have ever known.”
McCain Sr.’s example had an important influence on his son, but there were other role models he encountered early in life that also made lasting impressions. One was Lieutenant Commander Eugene Ferrell, the captain of an aging destroyer who supervised his training one summer and gave the erstwhile recalcitrant midshipman a glowing assessment of his potential. Another was an Air Force Major and former Korean War POW that McCain encountered during his early years as a Navy pilot. When McCain expressed his admiration for the fortitude the Major had exhibited during his time in captivity, his colleague replied that McCain would be surprised to discover “what suffering a man could endure when he had no alternative.”
As fate would have it, it would not be too long before the hand of destiny, and McCain would find out for himself just how true this prophetic observation would prove to be.
“I’m a man of many failings……I’ve done many, many things wrong in my life. The key is to try to improve.”
– John McCain, quoted in Newsweek magazine, 11 February 2008
The events that catapulted McCain into the public eye, beginning with his capture by the North Vietnamese in October 1967 and subsequent imprisonment in Hanoi are well-known to readers of this publication. Some of the most valuable insights that can be drawn from the story of McCain’s life relate to the complex and often subtle qualities of character that are the essence of real leadership.
After Annapolis, several significant events in his life demonstrated that McCain’s standing at the bottom of his graduating class was not a reflection of either a lack of intellect or an inability to retain his composure under difficult circumstances. Rather, a strong argument could be made that the stubborn streak of uncompromising individuality that got McCain into so much hot water at USNA later proved to be the aspect of his character that enabled him to endure the horrific torments he was subjected to as a prisoner of war.
McCain’s evolution from wayward midshipman to bona fide war hero is one that suggests that real leadership is not something that can be compressed into a concise set of neatly-defined critical requirements. As McCain would prove during his five years in captivity, sometimes it can be the individuals who are initially written off as misfits or renegades that wind up distinguishing themselves beyond anyone’s expectations when the chips are truly down.
John McCain is certainly no stranger to controversy, in fact, he has known more than his share over the course of his life. McCain has had some highly publicized differences with the Republican establishment over key policy issues, and in the early 1990’s, he came under intense criticism for his intervention on behalf of Charles Keating, the head of a failed savings and loan association who had been a generous contributor to his political campaigns. McCain’s vigorous championing for campaign finance reform hasn’t won him many friends among large corporations or powerful unions, and his support for the war in Iraq has angered voters who view that campaign as being an expensive and unnecessary fiasco. He’s well known in Washington for his sometimes mercurial temper, and readily admits that his dalliances with other women contributed to the breakdown of his first marriage.
Even so, there’s no denying he has made an enormous impact over the course of the 25 years he has spent in the political arena, Perhaps the aspect of his personality that makes McCain so endearing to those who admire him – and at the same time, so annoying to those who do not – is his undeniable sense of authenticity. In a world where so many political figures seem like little more than slickly crafted creations of their own PR machines, McCain stands out as being a man of real substance who knows who he is, and what he believes in.
While he has come a long way since his days at the Naval Academy, in many respects the Republican Presidential nominee of 2008 and the rebellious young man of 50 years ago are still very much one and the same. Throughout his life McCain has never wavered from the solid sense of honour that helped his father and grandfather navigate the many kinds of rocks and shoals they encountered during their own naval careers. There can be little doubt that this adherence to the “Faith of My Fathers” is the credo that enabled McCain to survive his ordeals in North Vietnam, and the one that has been his guiding light ever since.
It remains to be seen if John McCain will with the Presidency this fall, and if he does, whether he will make a good President. Perhaps the most important lesson we can take away from McCain’s life is to remember that when we return to the College for Reunion Weekend and watch the cadet wing on parade, there will be undoubtedly be other John McCains standing in the ranks, and they won’t necessarily be the ones with the bars on their collars or the merit badges on their sleeves. Sometimes, indeed, it can be the mavericks, nonconformists, and ne’er-do-wells who find it within themselves to rise to true greatness when the circumstances are right, and the need is thee.
2751 Sir Charles Forbes once said that “Destiny works in ways we will never be able to understand.” As the American people vote to choose their next President on 4 November 2008, John Sidney McCain III might just be destined to be the right leader, at the right time.
TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR !
Dedicated to the memory of the58,000 Americans, and the 147 Canadians, who never made it home from the Vietnam War.