With thanks to 12317 Scott Mills and the Class of ’79
It is sad fact of our aging class that the list of classmates on the In Memoriam section here has been getting longer. This was particularly evident at our 40th reunion where we started to hear about others who had passed. I also noticed looking at the In Memoriam page, that the entry for Claus was sparse to say the least. His unfortunate distinction, and our loss, is that he is the only member of our class who passed away while still at the college. So unfortunately many of our class never met him, or knew him. So let me tell you a little bit about my friend Claus.
Claus Dieter Dietrich Heinz Gorgichuk entered Royal Roads in August of 1975 from the thriving prairie metropolis of Two Hills Alberta. As you may have guessed from his name he was not born in Canada, having emigrated to here at the age of 11 from Germany. Although he was a 100% Canadian boy, one thing he never lost in the intervening years was his German accent. He still had issues with pronouncing V’s and W’s. So of course we were always telling him to watch out downtown for the “wicious wixens” he may meet.
Claus was an active member of the Mackenzie flight recruit class, and was also a member of the skydiving club, the flying club (he was a qualified pilot) and as many other activities he could fit into his schedule. His sense of humour and mischief was always helped by his ability to project a dead-pan expression as the trap was sprung. On the first weekend we were allowed to leave the college Claus went to the now closed Aquarium in downtown Victoria and bought a year’s pass. He loved the sea creatures particularly the Orcas and dolphins. Of course he also noticed something of their habits which allowed him to pull one of his favourite pranks. He would get someone who hadn’t been there yet to come with him. They would wander around and then end up near the large tank where the Orcas and dolphins would do their show. He would walk the edge and say “Come here, you have to see this.” The unsuspecting victim would come over to peer over the railing into the tank, and not notice Claus was slowly moving away. He had determined on an earlier visit the habits of one of the Orcas who would shoot up to the surface at that spot and spit water on the unsuspecting visitor. You would turn around dripping seawater and Orca spit to find Claus safely out of range, killing himself laughing that he had used an Orca to prank someone else.
Another prank he pulled on a few of us was after the Christmas Ball in first year. As was tradition most flights rented a “party room” in one of the hotels in Victoria where we would go with our dates after the ball to continue the party into the wee hours. If I recall it was a responsibility of the first years to organize it on behalf of the flight. We got a large suite/party room in a downtown hotel and drank until quite late. Then as it was a bit of freedom, a bunch of us just crashed in the suite that night rather than heading back to the college. At 6:30 in the morning the phone suddenly rang and jolted us all awake, sprawled out as we were on the floor or on whatever piece of furniture you could lay claim to. We were all thinking the hotel management had a beef with us or something of that sort. Someone picked the phone up and on the other end in a distinctively accented voice we heard, “Wakey-Wakey Mack Flight, its 6:30 you are wasting daylight”, together with, shall we say, another rather colourful expression the seniors used to use. That was immediately followed by a bunch of laughter as Claus hung up the phone on the other end. Where he was we never knew but he knew where the rest of us were.
During the summer of 1976 we all went to CFB Borden for BOTC. Since my family was living in Toronto Claus was one of a group of us who every weekend would hop the bus in Barrie to head down to my parents’ house in Toronto. My father would take the family car down to the Islington subway station to pick us up on Friday night. It was always amusing to my Dad that during that short 10 minute drive to my parents’ house he could look in the rear-view mirror into the back seat and find everyone passed out asleep. I am sure we all remember those days where we would fall asleep anywhere.
This ability to sleep anywhere backfired on us when we tried to play a prank on Claus. Walt Natynczyk reminded me of this event involving Claus that I had almost forgotten. We were on the subway on a Friday night heading to the station where my father would pick us up. Claus had fallen asleep and someone (Barry Klein), I can’t remember exactly who (Barry Klein) decided a great prank would be for all of us to get off the train at the next stop and run to the next car. We could then all sit there looking through the window from the next car and see Claus’ reaction when he woke up and we weren’t in immediate view.
It was a great idea in theory but of course not so good in execution. We managed to get organized to grab our stuff and get off the train, but in a manner befitting the Keystone Kops, we didn’t quite make it into the next car before the doors closed. So there was Claus, in a strange city, asleep on a subway car, not knowing where he was or where he was going, abandoned by his buds, who were still standing on the platform watching the train disappear into the distance. And of course we were all waiting for the next train in a state of panic wondering how we would find him again and pointing fingers at who had the bright idea in the first place. (Barry Klein)
Claus had enough presence of mind, or memory, to remember the station where he needed to get off the train. And he was there on the platform waiting for us when the rest of us pulled in. His usual good nature wasn’t completely evident at the time, but he did enjoy a good laugh at it later (once his blood pressure got back to normal). I think I learned a bunch of new German curse words. Of course none of us did get to see the look on his face when he woke up alone in the subway car.
Claus was determined to try everything and do as much as possible which made him a very busy cadet. I remember the night in second year when he came into my cabin and announced that if we could get 10 people we would be able to run a scuba certification course. So he said “You and me, and then we have to find 8 others.” Just like that, I didn’t have a say in the idea, I was roped in to this adventure, not that I really objected.
The unfortunate thing was that he ended up dying in a scuba diving accident in January 1978, right after New Years. I remember being at my parents, on weekend leave from RMC when my mother rushed into my room and said our next-door neighbour had called and told her Claus was dead. That didn’t compute right away, how would my neighbour in Toronto know that? I know she knew the names of the buds who came with me that summer during BOTC but how would she know he passed? It seems she heard it on the radio station and recognized the name. I couldn’t believe it and called the radio station newsroom myself to get the details. Unfortunately they confirmed the worst.
Later that day I got a call from his mother. Our parents had met and became friendly during the grad festivities at Roads at the end of second year. They had kept in touch and she had called looking to talk with them, but instead I answered the phone. What followed was one of the hardest phone calls I had ever taken. She asked me if I could arrange for myself, and Barry Klein at RMC and Walt Natynczyk and Mark Zbitnew from CMR to come to Alberta to “carry him”. The military was very accommodating and the four of us soon found ourselves on a service flight to Edmonton for the funeral. Of course there was a catch and we also had to bring with us enough greatcoats to outfit the contingent from Roads. The climate at Roads rarely necessitated wearing a CMC greatcoat so Roadents were never issued them. We made do with the cape or the CF green great coat on the left coast.
When we arrived in Edmonton the 4 of us were put in temporary quarters at Griesbach Barracks. The contingent from Roads was somewhere else. The morning of the funeral was a Saturday, and it had been arranged that we would get a vehicle from Base MSE to drive to Vegreville the site of the funeral and bring with us a military photographer who would make a record of the funeral. After the funeral I believe the Roads contingent had to leave to return to Victoria on a service flight. Us four had to stay until Monday in Edmonton. Claus’ parents insisted that we return the next day to come and visit them, have dinner and spend the night before returning to Edmonton.
When we jumped in the car in Edmonton on Sunday to drive out to Two Hills, we discovered something in the car the photographer didn’t tell us about. He was supposed to bring the temporary wooden cross grave marker provided by the CF. So on the way out we stopped at the cemetery in Vegreville to erect the cross on our bud’s grave. We didn’t have tools, so we had to improvise, something I think Claus would have appreciated. Using a combination of pieces of wood and the car jack we managed to get the cross erected properly
We then headed out to the Gorgichuk family farm in Two Hills. We got to see where Claus grew up, saw the ranch and the plane he learned to fly on. The Gorgichuks were gracious hosts considering what they were going through. We sat around the table eating dinner, chatting and telling stories. There were a lot of laughs and tears shared. Although it could have been a difficult time I think we all felt better afterwards. The four of us slept in sleeping bags in the rec room, and next morning after some tearful good byes headed back to Edmonton to catch our flights back east.
That wasn’t the last time some of us saw the Gorgichuks. I know they presented a trophy at Roads in Claus’ memory and were on hand to present it to the first recipient. They would have seen many of his Roads classmates at that time. In 1980 they were on a trip to Germany and they stopped in Lahr to spend an afternoon with Walt and myself. We had a nice visit in the Black Forest.
I also know they stayed in touch with my parents for years, and shared some photos and newspaper clippings that I have scanned and sent in to go with this article. One of the articles has a handwritten statement on it about something in the article. That was written by Mrs Gorgichuk so it was not my editorial comment. One photo shows Claus’ father Andy presenting the trophy named in Claus’ honour at the RRMC grad parade in 1979. – Scotty Mills
For the Class of 1979 In Memoriam page please see here.
Click on the image to enlarge.