Frank Sam leaves behind lasting legacy: A True Hero

·6 min read

“He was always there with an orange pop, a coffee crisp, and a smile on his face.”

Remembrance Day brings with it a time of solemn silence—communities nationwide gather together to stand unitedly in support, each person bearing a small, red, velvet poppy over their heart that symbolizes both remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. Cheeks turn a rosy shade of red, and bodies begin to shiver, however, whether that is from the colder temperatures that accompany Canadian Novembers or thinking about the soldiers that didn’t make it back home, is unknown. The feelings of loss, remembrance, and love fill the cold, stiff air, amplified by the soft crunch of fallen leaves beneath one’s feet.

Frank Sam served in the war, enlisting in 1941 at the mere age of 15, making the day of particular importance within the Sam family, shares Glady Sam, the middle of four children to Frank and Patricia. Waking up at the crack of dawn, Frank would be polishing his shoes, getting ready to slip them on and participate in the march up to the cenotaph. Glady, who couldn’t march with her father in the parade itself, would march alongside on the sidewalk in sync with him, each step a tribute to her immense pride in growing up with Frank as a dad. His other children would march as well, occasionally in the parade itself, but always on the sidelines, watching as Frank set the bar of what is expected for Remembrance Day.

Frank’s contagious smile continuously transcended the hardships he faced. Being taken from his family at only five-years-old, Frank was placed in a residential school where he stayed until he was 15. His long braids were cut off, and he was subjected to a life of arguable slavery, where he was fed porridge and molasses on bread— a meal his family said he swore to never eat again. Glady remembers Frank talking about the number of eggs he gathered from the chicken coop, yet never saw in his own breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

At 15, his future was left with minimal options and zero job prospects, which ultimately fueled his decision to enlist in the army. Becoming a paratrooper, he loved the breathtaking adrenaline that came from jumping out of a plane. But even an adrenaline rush as strong as that could not prepare him from the horrors he saw when he was unexpectedly sent overseas directly into the heart of the war.

Though the memories he had in the war remained his own—too painful to speak about aloud to even his closest family— they sometimes poked through at night, in the form of dark, twisted nightmares that woke everyone within radius.

What isn’t talked about is the injustice that Aboriginal Canadians faced when dedicating themselves to military service. The Indian Act ruled that Indigenous peoples who spent four or more years living off the reserve would lose their status as Aboriginals when or if they returned from overseas. Identifying with the Akisqnuk community where he was born, he came back to a tradeoff of his official Indian status for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But he did come back from the war, something that thousands of Canadians sadly cannot say. Serving as a Private for Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, second division, Frank was discharged after receiving two gunshots when acting as a paratrooper: one to his ankle, one to his arm. Getting sent back to Canada, at a hospital in Vancouver, Frank narrowly avoided having his foot amputated and spent just over a year healing from his injuries in rehabilitation.

Yet, despite all that, Frank’s magnetic personality and positive outlook on life never wavered, eventually getting back to a point of doing what he loved most, which consisted of an active, outdoorsy life. He held an especially special spot for playing hockey and baseball, fishing with his family, and hunting. He needed a change of scenery to process past events, which ultimately helped fate lead him to his wife, Patricia. Moving to Washington State in 1966, he worked at an apple factory, where he passed Patricia’s designated station every morning. Their chemistry was undeniable, getting together in 1967, and officially marrying in 1971. The ceremony was small and special, occurring in Salmon Arm with just four family members present.

“He was an honorable man. In loving and just everything that he did,” says Glady, the intense love evident from the tears pooling in the corner of her eyes. “He loved fiercely. He committed fiercely. He was dependable in a way that, not just from my eyes but from anybody’s, if somebody needed something, he would find a way to help them. It was him going out of his way to be that person.”

Frank was a man of strong family values, evident even now in his beautiful children, grandchildren, and of course within Patricia, his wife of 50 blissful years. Joining the Shuswap Indian Band, he lived every day as though it was a blessing, touching the hearts of everyone he talked to, to the point that tourists who met him in past visits would even go to Radium’s Tourism Centre in search of him when they were in town.

“He’s a rockstar,” she says. “If I went anywhere with him, people gravitated to him and his stories would resonate. Anywhere he went. Everywhere he went, he knew people. People were just gravitated to him.”

Frank loved talking to new people and cracking jokes, often posting up on the bench outside of BMO, where he would happily chat about life with those who passed by. “He was always there with an orange pop, a coffee crisp, and a smile on his face,” says Jill Nicholas, Frank and Patricia’s youngest daughter, fondly remembering her dad’s charismatic identity.

This year’s Remembrance Day will be different for the Sam family. Facing it without Frank by their sides, Patricia, his daughters Jill and Glady, and granddaughters Nyla and Elani, say it will be extremely hard. Glady Sam, Executive Assistant to Chief and Council for Shuswap Indian Band, has the honor of placing the wreath on the Cenotaph during the ceremony. Although a smaller event than in years past, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the love and Remembrance transcends previous years for the Sam family, who will be remembering not only the soldiers who gave their lives along with the veterans who made it home, but also Frank and the outstanding legacy he left behind.

Haley Grinder, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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