RJ: “The first time being sent overseas, we got assigned to a squadron in India [The Burma Campaign]. I think it was a Canadian squadron, but I’m not positive- I didn’t know whether we were under the American flag or the Canadian flag.”

What is your birth year?

1923.

How old does that make you today?

[96.] 

What branch of the Armed Forces did you serve in?

[Royal Canadian Air Force].

Where were you born?

In Oslo, Norway. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

I was six months old when they took me to Canada. Where did you live in Canada? In a little place called Port Alberni, Vancouver Island. I raised like they used to raise kids- put them in the corner and tell them to shut up. My parents, they couldn’t speak very good English, and I was going to school to learn how to talk English; I came home to them, and I was a little annoyed with them because they couldn’t talk English! {Laughs} I didn’t learn much Norwegian. I had a normal upbringing; they brought me up as they would any other child. I can’t get this impression out of my mind- the difference in raising me and raising children nowadays. It’s so grossly different, absolutely much better. That impresses me just about every day, that that could exist. Anyway, I’m used to it now. 

Port Alberni [had] an interesting group of people from Finland and Norway and around there that were willing to work. They had a lot of work there, in the sawmills and pulp mills and the logging industry. My dad, he was a longshoreman, and that was my dream job, to be a longshoreman. I didn’t do that good in school, because I couldn’t talk English, but I was learning as I went along. Before I reached that stage, I went to high school, and I didn’t pass out of grade 10. That’s as far as I got. Then, I had to enlist, because they had an enlistment program there. I went down and enlisted, but I don’t remember it in much detail. 

You grew up in an immigrant family. Do you remember ever facing discrimination because of this?

They treated them fine; they had no problem with that. They were anxious to work, and there was a working climate there. That’s happened since there, too- you’ve had classes of people come across who are willing to work, and they put them to work. There was no problem there that I saw.

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor?

Yes, I remember hearing about it. 

How old were you when you enlisted?

About 19. 

On his enlistment:

I wanted to be in the Air Force; my brother went into the Navy, which was my first choice, but he beat me to it. So, I decided that I’d join the Air Force, and then I thought I’d be aircrew. I got categorized; Air Force, enlistment, and no specific position. Then, I went into training for Air Force. I learned how to fly with a single-engine airplane, and we graduated up into a four-engine one. As we did all this, we crewed up, and we crewed up by using Canadians, a good bunch of guys. What type of plane did you fly? B-24. 

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

I was a pilot; there were two pilots aboard the plane. It was a funny thing- it was in-between wars, and we crewed up with all available guys, so all the instructors wanted to join. The instructors got to be the pilots, but rightfully so, because they had many more years of experience flying. The pilot that I flew with, his name was Ted. There were 10 people on our crew, and they were all Canadian guys. 

Were you sent overseas at any point?

The first time being sent overseas, we got assigned to a squadron in India [The Burma Campaign]. I think it was a Canadian squadron, but I’m not positive- I didn’t know whether we were under the American flag or the Canadian flag. I couldn’t tell by my pay or anything- I didn’t even see my pay. We went overseas, and we had a good tour. It was kind of an unusual tour because usually, tours in Europe are short hours. Ours were long hours; we left at sunset and came back at sunrise. It was a lot of hours and didn’t take long to get a so-called tour-of-duty. It was so many hours of flight, and we filled it up easily. 

Did you experience combat while overseas?

No, I didn’t. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

We had wondeful vacations; I met some wonderful Indian girls too, but it didn’t go anywhere. I was amazed; I’d worked with Indian people, and they were all brilliant guys. I had a lot of respect for them because they were pretty brainy. We got along fine with them. 

We had a little problem; we couldn’t lower the front wheels, so you had to go down there and do it manually. I’m the guy who had to do that; I was kind of the engineer. I think they’d lost a few guys, because [when moving the levers], if you didn’t get out of the way fast enough, you went down with it. I lowered the front wheels, and then we could land alright. Outside of that, there wasn’t anything too bad.  

What was your reaction when you found out the war was over in Europe and Japan- VE  and VJ day?

Yeah. I was expecting to be sent home from London, so it wasn’t a big deal. The timing was [that] the longer you’d been overseas the sooner you could go back. 

On his discharge:

I did a tour over there, and then I came back to Canada to be discharged. I went to the interview of being discharged. They asked what I wanted to be, and I said, “I want to be a longshoreman like my dad.” They said, “Why don’t you continue your education?” I said, “I’m not smart enough.” They looked at my records, and said, “It looks to me like you are.” I got my expectations down to where I could do it, but I had to make up grades 10-12 in university. They had these classes for guys like me, that could pick up a couple years of high school in a few weeks! At the time, it was amazing! So, that’s what I did. I went and picked up a couple of week’s time, and I graduated with a little more prestige then. Then I went to university and became a mechanical engineer. 

When did you move from Canada to the United States?

When I was discharged. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

Must’ve had some impact, but depending on country and creed- some of the stories you hear are just atrocious. I can take all that with a grain of salt. I didn’t experience it myself, but I’ve read stories and heard stories myself. 

Do you think there is anything that the RCAF did differently than the US Air Force? 

No, I don’t think so. Nothing comes to mind. They kept us informed, so we didn’t fall too far behind in the knowledge, so I think it was fair. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII?

I’m not interested in movies and stuff, so I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything misinterpreted. 

How did your service impact your life as a whole?

I met a great bunch of good guys. Then, the government had this educational program, so I got on that and completed my engineering. That was really a good play, and the Americans had the same kind of show- the G.I. bill. 

Author’s Note: RJ was not able to provide any personal photographs from his service in the RCAF during WWII. The photos included are provided for the reader’s reference, but do not describe RJ’s exact experience or his surroundings. The images are cited to their respective owners. 

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“China-Burma-India WWII”, Retrieved from http://chinaburmaindiawwii.blogspot.com/2015/06/raf-far-east-1945.html

Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

 

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