Korean War Legacy Project

James Shipton


James Shipton grew up in a family with a strong military heritage. His father and six uncles participated in both World War I and World War II. In 1943, James Shipton joined the Air Cadets before joining the Canadian Air Force in 1948 as a radio navigator. Starting in 1950, James Shipton flew to Washington Air Force Base to begin his mission to fly United States soldiers back and forth from Korea to Japan.  James Shipton retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force after 37 years of service.

Video Clips

Shipton's Duty during Korean War

Beginning in 1950, James Shipton flew 12 trips into Japan from Washington state as a radioman. James Shipton recalls the length of time these trips took. During his time with North Star Plans, trips from Japan to Washington took 50 hours.

Tags: 1950 Pusan Perimeter, 8/4-9/18,Pride

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Flying US Soldiers into Battle and Flying the Injured Out

James Shipton's planes were used to fly United States soldiers into Japan. Once in Japan, soldiers boarded troop ships bound for Korea. His flights transported 45 soldiers at a time. Beginning in November of 1950 James Shipton becgan flying injured soldiers back to the US. James Shipton recalls the RCF nurses who took care of soldiers and marines who were suffering from frostbite.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Aprokgang (Yalu River),Chinese,Cold winters

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

J:         I’m James Shipton.  S-H-I-P-T-O-N.

I:          Um hm.  What is the ethnic origin of this last name, Shipton?

J:         It, it’s, uh, as a matter of fact, there’s a town in Kansas

I:          Um hm.

J:         There’s a, a town in Yorkshire, England which I was that close to, uh, but we had to turn and go down and catch a train.  So I wasn’t able to visit the township of Shipton in Yorkshire.


I:          Ah.  So that originated from the local in Kansas.

J:         I, I think so.  I think the origin and the name is, uh, sheep village or something like that.

I:          But you are Air Force.

J:         Yes.

I:          Alright.  What is your birthday?
J:         Fifth of November, 1929.  I’m 86.

I:          November 5th.

J:         Five, yeah.


I:          Twenty-ninth.

J:         Yep.
I:          So you born in the year of Great Depression.
J:         Oh yeah.  Yeah.

I:          Tell me about the Great Depression that you experienced.

J:         Well, I was

I:          Where were you born?

J:         Kingston, Ontario.

I:          And?

J:         And, uh, my dad worked in a hotel, and my mother, uh, worked at the, uh, oh I guess you’d call it cigarette stand, whatever, you know.

I:          How was, how difficult were you to, to


go through that Great Depression?  Was it okay to you or what?
J:         Well you know, well my, a lot of Americans came up, uh, to Kingston, and, uh, they were good tippers.  And, uh, my dad owned a, a Model T, uh, Ford, you know, with a rumble seat

I:          Ah.

J:         and he used to take myself and my uncle who’s, uh, been my mother’s youngest brother, he was a year and a half older than me, and we were great pals.

I:          So it wasn’t too bad.


J:         No, it wasn’t too bad at all.

I:          You’re lucky.

J:         Oh, I love Kingston.  Oh, gosh.

I:          It’s a beautiful town, isn’t it?

J:         Oh, everything was close, you know.  If you go swimming and there was a hockey rink down at the corner and it was just a super place to live.  And in 1939 when War broke out in September, my dad moved up to Montreal and joined the Army.

I:          When was that?

J:         September, uh, ’39.


I:          Nineteen thirty-nine.

J:         Yeah.  And the reason he did that was be, uh, because, uh, his wife, my mother, her parents had retired from Kingston and moved up to Montreal years earlier.

I:          Um hm.

J:         So, uh, we upped and, uh, mom and I moved and, moved into her parents home.

I:          I see.

J:         And my dad went overseas in, uh, February


of, uh, 1940.  And, uh, he came home in May of, uh, 1945.  He was gone for five years of my life which really peed me off.  And, uh, my mother and sister, her sisters, were all married to, uh, military people who also went overseas.


I had, uh, six uncles over there, and fortunately, uh, they all came back.  One was in the Air Force, and he was in, uh, uh, Burma with the, uh, two transport squadrons that the RCAF had there during the War.

I:          So it’s a quite military family.

J:         Yeah.  Well my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a retired artilleryman.  And, uh, my grandfather was a retired, uh , artilleryman


who, uh, who fought in the, uh, Boar War, South African War in

I:          Yeah, yeah.

J:         19, early 1900’s.  And he was with, uh, C Battery of Royal Canadian Field Artillery, and they, uh, went up and helped, uh, relieve, uh, [MATHEKING] were, uh, who was the boy scout guy?

MALE VOICE:  Baden Powell.

J:         Yeah, Baden Powell.  So I always say if my grandfather had,


hadn’t helped save Baden Powell, there’d be no Boy Scouts.  So there you go.

I:          Tell me about your siblings.

J:         Siblings?

I:          Yeah, when you were growing up.

J:         Well, what would you like to know about that?
I:          Brothers and sisters.

J:         Oh, no.

I:          How many?  You are the only child?

J:         No, no.  I was, uh, a lone, lone child until, uh, 1946 after my dad had come home, and I


found myself with a young brother.

I:          I see.

J:         In 1946.

I:          Um hm.

J:         And there I was.  I was about 17, and I was wheeling him around in the carriage.  Yeah.

I:          So when did you graduate high school?

J:         Senior articulation 1948, Verdun High School

I:          Um hm.

J:         It’s a suburb of Montreal.

I:          And let me ask this question.  Did you learn anything about Korea or


Asia during your high school or middle school, whatever, throughout your education?

J:         No.  Well during War, I used to come home and listen to the BBC news at, for lunch.  And then in my, uh, I used to listen to, uh, uh, a radio program called L, L for Lanky, and it was a, the adventures of, uh, Darcy, RCAF Bomber Crew

I:          Um hm.

J:         over in England.


And, uh, in 1942

I:          You mean the Royal Canadian Air Force.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Okay.

J:         And when I, uh, in 1943 I joined the Air Cadets because I really loved, uh, the stories that were on the air.  And, um, one year I went to Mountainview which is just outside of Trenton where you are going later and, uh, there was a, a bombing and gunnery school there.  And they allowed, uh, the Air Cadets to


go up and, uh, you know, in an Anson aircraft.  And that, that just made me so keen to join the Air Force.  And, uh, one thing I didn’t like about, about the Air Cadets was, was Morse Code.

I:          Yeah.

J:         And it was gonna come back to haunt me later on when I joined the Air Force in 19

I:          Why you didn’t like Morse Code?
J:         I just didn’t like it.  But anyway, to, to tell you what

I:          It’s a telegraph,


and it’s a Victorian internet in 19th centuries, you know?
J:         Dot to dot

I:          Dot to dot to dot

J:         Dot to dot to dot to dot.  Yeah.  Yeah, that’s it, yeah.  Uh, anyway I joined in 1948, and there were only two, uh, officer air crew categories:  pilot and radio navigator.  So I was selected for radio navigator.  So we went to, uh, Clinton and I graduated from Clinton in, uh, May


of, uh, ’49.  And, uh, believe it or not, I got up to 25 words a minute in Morse Code.  Anyway, um, after that, we went to Trenton, and we took a, an air gunners course.  And, uh, we flew in, uh, Lodestar aircraft.  It’s a, a,

I:          What is the name?

J:         Lodestar.  L-O-



I:          Lodestar.

J:         Yeah.  It, it, it’s, a

I:          It’s a bomber?

J:         Yeah, yeah.  Uh, the Hudson Bomber is a very close relative.  And we would go up and, uh, and, and do, uh, a, a fighter, uh, avoidance, maneuvers and, uh, they had


Vampire jets at Trenton and, uh, we’d go up and over Lake Ontario.  And they would make passes at us, and we’d stand in the Astrodome and, and tell the pilot to corkscrew right, corkscrew left.  And that, uh, avoided the, the fighter from getting on out tail.

I:          Um hm.

J:         And then we also went out to, uh, did some air gunnery on these aircraft.


And, uh, uh, we’d fly over Lake Ontario in a Dakota aircraft, C47, would put out a, a drogue, and we’d get in, into the, uh, the, uh, turret and, and fire at the, uh, at the drogue.  And then, and while we were there, uh, the Princess Elizabeth came over to open up what we called the Pearly Gates


at Trenton, and you will see them when you’re there.  And they’re, they’re the British Commonwealth Air Trading Plan.  They put them up in, in memory of that.  And, uh, we, uh, as we said, uh, and so we were out  of school for about a week, and we used to say if it moves sooner, if it doesn’t move, paint it.  And that, we acted as ushers during that visit.  So to make


up for this, uh, we had to do a hell of a lot of, uh, of flying, and this one trip, Tim, who’s coming this afternoon, he and I went up to get here.  I only had to fire 500 rounds of, uh, 50 caliber.  And Tim had to fire off 1,000.  So I, I got in the turret first, and I fired my, uh, 500.  Tim got in and

I:          How did you feel like, uh, shooting this

J:         No, no, no.

I:          fifty caliber?

J:         No, no.


It, it, it made a noise.  And, uh, Tim swung the turret, a beam in the aircraft and aimed at the, uh, aimed at the drogue.  And I think he fired, uh, a one second burst.  Oh, and before that, they couldn’t get my drogue in.  So they had to put two.  There were two there.  Tim pressed the pressure, and both of the drogues floated off into


I:          Hm.

J:         Lake Ontario.

I:          But go, going back to my  original question.  Did you know anything about Korea when you were growing up in, from your education?
J:         I didn’t know where it was.

I:          You didn’t know my country?
J:         No.  Well, well, it was, it was under Japanese suppression, so how could we find out anything about it?

I:          What did you know about Japan or China?  Did you learn anything about Japan and China from the school?


J:         Well, you didn’t have to.  You learned it from the newspaper.  The War was on.  So yeah, I knew about Japan.

I:          Um hm.  But you knew nothing about Korea.

J:         No.

I:          So now you are, how old are you, um,

J:         Eighty-six.

I:          Eighty-six.  Looking back all those years

J:         Yeah.

I:          you knew nothing about Korea, but you end up fighting in Korea

J:         No, I wasn’t a fighter.  I was a, I was the, they say in the Air Force.  I was a lover.


I:          I know.  But still, you were in Korea, right?

J:         No.

I:          You never been in Korea?
J:         No.

I:          Oh, okay.

J:         No.  I, I left the Squadron before they started flying in, into Korea.

I:          Um hm.
J:         But I, I got as far as Japan.  I did, uh, uh, 12 trips, uh, as a, as a radio man.

I:          Um hm.  Um hm.

J:         And then I left there and, uh, I came back to Montreal and, uh,


when it flew into the Arctic, uh, flew as Far East  as, uh, Cairo.

I:          Um hm.

J:         far South as, uh, [PELAMA] in Brazil and as far North as [REDGLU BAY] which is at 75 North into the Arctic.

I:          When did you leave for Japan?

J:         We left at the end of July, 1950.  Six aircraft, 12 crews plus, uh, the maintenance people


and spare parts.

I:          Um.  And where, where did you station in Japan?

J:         We weren’t stationed in Japan.  We flew out to McChord Air Force Base which is Tacoma, Washington.

I:          Tacoma, yeah.

J:         And met, um, McChord Air Force Base, yeah.  And, uh, we flew out of there under, under the A, [Ageus] of, uh, MATS,

I:          Um hm.

J:         Military Air Transport System.

I:          Yeah.


J:         The Americans had, had just finished a Berlin aircraft and, uh, [STAMMERS]  they, uh, there was a sudden influx of, uh, C54’s into the base and then they, they, we got involved into your, in the airlift.

I:          So it’s, uh, from Tacoma to Japan, it’s a flight.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Ah.  And you come back.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Ah.  Okay.

J:         Back and forth.  And, uh,

I:          How long did it take?


How long did it take?
J:         Our return trip took about 50 hours.

I:          Fifty.

J:         Five zero.  Not, not in, not counting, uh, stopovers and that.  But 50 hours flying.

I:          In the air.

J:         Yeah.  Yeah.

I:          Really?

J:         Yeah.  We, we flew from, uh, McChord to, uh, Anchorage, Alaska, Elmendorf Air Force Base and then out to Shemya which is in the Semichi Islands.  It’s the second last island.


Actually, it’s a, it’s the last island

I:          In the far north, right, yeah.

J:         Yeah, you

I:          Curial, curial, yes.

J:         Yeah.  And then from there we, we flew to, uh, Tokyo.

I:          Tokyo.

J:         Yeah.  We did one trip for, I forgot, we went into, uh, Missau one time which is on the North island, aye, which is, what’s the North island, Honshu?

I:          Honshu, yes.

J:         Yeah.  We, we went in there one time.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Because of strong headwinds and, uh, we were


getting low on fuel.  So we diverted to, uh, Missau.

MALE VOICE:   Jim, what kind of aircraft were these?

J:         Uh, Norstar.

MALE VOICE:  Norstars.

J:         It’s a DC, DC4 was in line, Merlin engines.

I:          Um hm.

J:         The same engine that powered the Spitfire and the Mosquito aircraft during the War.  That’s why I’m wearing hearing aids.

I:          Yeah, yeah.  So tell me about, again, about the main mission of your flight.  What, what were you doing?


J:         We, uh, actually we, we were carrying, um, troops, soldiers, American soldiers.

I:          How  many were you able to accommodate?
J:         Oh, God.  Uh, that would be the air traffic guys, uh.  I, I just knew it was a whole bunch of soldiers in the back.  But, uh, the aircraft could carry, uh, 45, yea.

I:          That’s it?

J:         Yeah.

I:          It’s not too big.

J:         Well, it’s easy, do you know what a C54 looks like.


I:          Yeah.

J:         And then they were sitting on, uh, canvas

I:          Yeah.

J:         seats, you know?  Yeah.  And, uh, I remember one time this one, one lad came up and asked me if I had any comic books.

I:          So those soldiers stationed in Japan, or did they, did they go to Korea from Japan?

J:         They went to, the, the Americans then used aircraft to take them to Korea.

I:          To Korea.
J:         Yeah.

I:          Ah ha.

J:         Once, once we got to, uh, Tokyo, that was it.


And, uh, and when, and, and in Tokyo, we stayed at the Marunouchi Hotel which was run by the Australians.

I:          Australian.

J:         Yeah.  So we stayed at that hotel.

I:          Tell me about your stay in Japan.  How did you enjoy it?
J:         Oh, well it, it was still, I mean, this was 1950.  It was, there was still a lot of devastation from the American bombing during the World War II.

I:          Uh huh.

J:         Uh, the people


were very polite, uh.  I loved it when the uh, the ladies dressed up in their kimonos.  It, you hear

I:          Kimono, yeah.

J:         Yeah.  You hear the clip clop of their, of their, uh, wooden, wooden shoes.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Yeah.  And one time, one Sunday morning there was an earthquake, and we all dashed out, out, outside and the Australian came, came out and said get back in here.  Something’s


libel to fall off the building and kill you.  So we did and, uh, when we got inside, they, the, the Australians opened the bar.

I:          So you never been in Korean soil.

J:         No sir.

I:          Um hm.

J:         No sir.
I:          Did you, did you hear anything about Korean War from the soldiers that you were taking?
J:         No, we were only taking them there.  That was it.

I:          That was it.

J:         Yeah.  And, uh,


of course later on, uh, uh, I guess it was about December or Novem, oh, [INAUDIBLE] in Thanksgiving.  Nove, it was in November when, uh, the Chinese came across the Yalu River,

I:          Um hm.

J:         and caused all kinds of

I:          Yes.

J:         with the allies.

I:          Late 1950’s.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Yeah.  From then on, we, we carried, uh, airevacs.

I:          What is that?
J:         Wou, wounded.

I:          Oh.


J:         And we, we, we’d go to Icami which was west of, uh, west of, uh, Tokyo.  And then we’d pick up a load of airevacs and carry them back to the States.

I:          Ah.  So there are other casualties from the Korean War?

J:         Yeah.  And, and, and in that time in November or December, a lot of, a lot of them were, uh, Frostbites.

I:          Yes.

J:         The, and of course they


were mostly the troops from the Southern States, um.  And, uh, we, we, we flew down by Wake Island to Honolulu to, uh, I can’t remember the name of the air base.  It’s just East of San Francisco, and, and we dropped them there, and then we’d go back up North and do it again.

I:          What were you thinking when you saw those wounded soldiers from the Korean War?


J:         I felt sorry for them, for sure.  They’re but for the grace of God go I as the saying goes.  Yeah.  And, and, and that trip, uh, I told you a round trip through the North was 50 hours.  If you came back through the South, it was, uh, another, uh, another 15 hours on that.  It was 65 hours.  So it was a pretty long legs down there.

I:          Yeah.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Must be painful for those wounded soldier, right,


inside of the airplane?
J:         Well, no.  They had, uh, had stretchers.  Uh, we had, uh, flight nurses and, uh, uh, they, there were even a couple of RCAF flight nurses that we met that were accompanying the, uh, the wounded back to the States.  Yeah.

I:          Must been nice to fly with, uh,

J:         Oh, they were so happy to see guys in, in, uh, in the same color uniform.

I:          Yeah.

J:         Yeah.  Yeah.


I:          Uh huh.  So when did you retire from the Air Force?

J:         Oh God, 1985, 1986.  I can’t remember. One of the year.  I, I spent over 37 years in the, in the Air Force.

I:          Thirty-seven years.

J:         Thirty -seven.

I:          Tell, is there any episode that you want to share with us about your duties inside of the, the airplane, especially when you were carrying the wounded soldiers


from Korea?  Any episode, anything?

J:         Well, no, no.

I:          What do you think about Korea now?

J:         Oh, I think

I:          Do you know anything about Korea now?
J:         Oh, hell yes.  It’s come a long way.  God a long way.  Um, I, I, I know I’ve got, uh, two, uh, two of their tv sets in my house. Yeah, oh yeah.  Uh, Jim Timmins actually went to, the fellow that’s coming here at 3:00.


He actually went back to Korea.

I:          Huh.

J:         And he went to Korea during

I:          Um hm.

J:         I’d left before they started flying into Korea.

I:          Hm.

J:         Yeah.  Yeah.

I:          That’s what we are doing.  We’re trying to preserve the memories.

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          And their honorable service and sacrifices so that

J:         Well you’d better do it soon cause it’s fading.

I:          Exactly, right?  Every human being is numbered.

J:         Oh, yeah.
I:          Yeah.  So we gotta do it  before it gets too late .

J:         Yeah, for sure.

I:          Yeah.

J:         Yeah.


I:          Yeah.  Any other story that you wanna leave to this interview?

J:         Well, uh, well I, I flew in the Comet and, uh, and, uh, also, uh, the C5 aircraft which was a, a, a, between a DC4 and a DC 6.  It was a DC5 we called it.  And, uh, I navigated, uh, uh, Prime Ministers, uh, royalty,


I:          Ah.

J:         And, uh, I took D from Baker to, uh, to open up, uh, in, darn it, I, in Nuvic which is at the most, where McKenzie River, where it flows into the Arctic Ocean.  And then I took, uh, D from Baker on this visit, visit to Japan in 1959 or ’60, somewhere in there.  Yeah.


I:          Ha.  You brought something.  Could you show those?  You were beautiful.

J:         Well

I:          Just, just hold up.

J:         You, you don’t have to tell my wife that.  Unfortunately, she passed away about nine years ago.

I:          Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

J:         Ninety-seven.

I:          But she must have enjoyed life with you, right,  with this

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          Young, handsome gentleman.

J:         Well, she was trying cause, you know, you’d leave and she wouldn’t know when  you were coming back.

I:          Ah.

J:         Especially when I was in


Winnipeg in, uh, in the late 60’s, and I went on Search and Rescue.  And we did most of our searches, uh, North of 60 North as they say.  And, uh, that was very rewarding, uh, to, to find people that were, that were missing and, uh, not reported.  We found quite a few that were still alive.  But the, found quite a few that were.


were killed.

I:          You know, this is what the Korean War veterans from Canada did.  Now the country of Canada and Korea become very close, trading partners

J:         Oh yes.

I:          and before your fight, we didn’t know each other.

J:         Oh, hell no.

I:          So I think that’s the foundation that the Korean War veterans from Canada did, and we were able to pull this simultaneous,


unprecedented economic development and democratization because you fought for us.

J:         Yeah.  And my, uh, I had three uncles, uh, actually went to Korea.  They were on the ground.  Uh,

I:          Three uncles?

J:         Yeah, three, yeah.
I:          They fought during the War?

J:         They were World War II veterans.

I:          Yeah.

J:         And, uh, two of them were, uh, two of them were, were, uh, Royal Canadian Artillery and, uh, the other one


was, uh, he was Army Service Corps.

I:          When were they in Korea, before the War, right?

J:         Before the War?

I:          Was during the War that your uncle

J:         Dur, dur, during the War.  They, they, they went, uh, I think the,  uh, Army started going there

I:          Fifty-one.

J:         Fifty-one,yeah.  They, they were there ’51, ’52, somewhere in there.

I:          Oh.

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          Three uncles you said.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Could you tell their names?


J:         Yeah.  Uh, Steven George Williams and, uh, Donald Earl Williams.

I:          Um hm.

J:         And they were my mother’s brothers.  My mother came from a family of, uh, nine.  She was the oldest girl of, uh, of five, and there were four brothers.  And, uh, the, uh, youngest one was the one that I was closest to.


I:          Ah.

J:         Yeah.

I:          They came back?

J:         Yeah.

I:          Safe?

J:         From Korea, yeah.

I:          Uh huh.

J:         Well, the artillery was behind the lines.  Yeah.

I:          Wow.

J:         Yeah.
I:          They must pass away, right?

J:         Oh gosh, yeah.

I:          Yeah, yeah.

J:         Years ago.

I:          Did you hear anything about  the War from, from your uncles?

J:         No, no.  Uncle Steve, uh, he, he was a scrounger.  Even during World War II when


he was in, uh, Italy.  And my dad was there, too, in Italy, Sicily and Italy.  And, uh, I mean, he was the greatest scrounger.  I heard that he gave talks in American out of a jeep in Korea.  He could do that.  He was a bit of a devil.

I:          Yeah, we love devil.  So any other things that you want to leave to this interview?




You wanna say anything more to this interview?
J:         Oh, I can’t think of, of, if you ask me a question I can answer it.

I:          Um.

J:         I, uh, uh, can’t think of anything.  Oh yeah.  We, we had slip crews all, all through that, that route through, uh, that to, uh, we had a slip crew in, uh, I think it was Shemya, one in Wake Island and one in, uh, Honolulu.


And it, it seemed if ever an aircraft was hung up because it was unserviceable or because the weather wasn’t good, I always seemed to get stuck in Shemya.  And that’s where we spent New Year’s, New Year’s Eve

I:          Shemya, where, in

J:         The Aleutians.

I:          Oh.

J:         Where the winds and the fog and the rain and the snow

I:          Not in Hawaii.

J:         No, no, no, no.


I:          Not in the lake.

J:         I was in, uh, in, in, uh, in, in Shemya and, uh, we, uh, we had four officers on our crew, and we went to their Officers’ Mess in Shemya which I think was on a Quonset Hut.  And there were six of us.  And that was, uh, December 31, 1950, yeah.  But the next day when we were able to leave, we couldn’t, we couldn’t go in the, the day before because


of, uh, strong headwinds.  And that North Pacific was some, something

I:          Yeah

J:         I, I. I’ve flown in the Atlantic quite a bit.  And, uh, that Shemya is a

I:          So you had a wonderful career in Royal Canadian Air Force

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          Um hm.
J:         Yeah, yeah.

I:          Yep.

[End of Recorded Material]