Former Renfrew resident Mike Fleming, who now lives in North Carolina, is flanked by two members of the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa after he was presented with a hockey puck from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment. The Canadian soldiers are Lieut.-Col. David Quick, at left, and Sgt.-Major Keith Olstad.
3rd Battalion RCR at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa
Michael Fleming still returns to the Ottawa Valley every year or two to catch up with his Canadian roots, but he recently made the connection without leaving town.
Fleming took a break from his work for the U.S. Postal Service in Fort Bragg, N.C., last week to use a gift card from a customer. Heading over to Starbucks on the North Carolina army base, he made an unimagined connection to Canada after conversing with a few Canadian soldiers.
Fleming offered to buy them coffee, but the Canadians said they were doing a coffee run for nearly a dozen soldiers. Fleming said he’d still be more than pleased to pick up the entire tab.
In doing so, he triggered an appreciative response from some of the more than 400 Canadian soldiers attending a month-long exercise at Fort Bragg.
For his gesture, he was presented with one of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment’s hockey puck. He also received the commanding officer's coin and recognition on the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa Facebook page.
One of the soldiers Fleming met in the North Bragg Starbucks Feb. 26 was Bombardier Blair Walton of 2nd Royal Canadian Horse Artillery at CFB Petawawa. The modest gesture clearly resonated with the Canadian soldier.
“It restores (some of our faith in) humanity,” said Walton.
“It shows that people care and respect what we do. It was a really nice gesture.”
Not lost on Fleming was the fact he still feels very much Canadian, even though he’s now an American citizen. He grew up in the Ottawa Valley, in Braeside, Arnprior and Renfrew, and attended Central Public School and Renfrew Collegiate Institute, from which he graduated in the late 1960s.
Related to the Flemings in the Calabogie area, he mostly remembers many faces from the Renfrew area, such as Dave Lorente (one of his high school teachers), Wilf O’Brien, Gord Eady and Pat St. Michael.
“Renfrew is what I call home. Renfrew is my hometown,” said Fleming while talking to The Renfrew Mercury during his day shift for the U.S. Postal Service.
“When I cut myself shaving, my blood is Royal Canadian Mounted Police red. I appreciate that I am part of these two countries because I am Canadian and American. America has treated me well … but my home is Canada.”
Fleming also has made deep connections to the U.S. military, after moving south of the border in the late 1960s to enlist in the U.S. Army so he could fight in the Viet Nam War. He served in Viet Nam from January 1970 to April 1971.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1975, but says he wishes he’d known Canadian legislation was coming in 1977 that would have allowed him dual citizenship.
Meanwhile, he says it’s important he and other citizens continue to recognize the cost of freedom by thanking the servicemen who help make that freedom possible.
While he has expressed his appreciation to U.S. servicemen several times, he says getting to do that for members of the Canadian military was unique and special.
Whether the military’s Canadian, American, British, German or of another national stripe, they know freedom is not free, said Fleming. He said he was pleased to be able to recognize his own people’s military.
“The opportunity to do that was the least I could do,” said Fleming. “It was just coffee.”