Robert J. Rose
Robert James Rose served as a radio/navigation officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Korean War era. After graduating from Leamington High School in 1948, he moved to the United States to chase his dream of playing professional baseball with the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) playing Class D baseball. After an arm injury abruptly ended his baseball career, he returned to Canada and began working at the H.J. Heinz Company. A friend who had joined the Air Force eventually convinced him to join the Air Force. From December 1952 through 1953, he flew eight missions as part of the crew of a Canadair North Star (426 Squadron), responsible for airlifting military personnel and supplies to and from Japan. He ended his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the 412 Squadron which was a VIP Transport Squadron. He has visited Seoul as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs tour which included many commemorations of battles from the war as well as a visit to the DMZ.
Adventures to Korea
Robert Rose served as radio/navigation officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Canadair North Star (426 Squadron). He offers details of the routes used to airlift military personnel and supplies to and from Japan in support of the Korean War.
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"We've Got to Get Rid of This Plane"
Robert Rose recalls one particular journey across the Pacific as part of a Canadair North Star flight crew. He recalls coming across damaged planes on the trip with preceding and seceding tail numbers to the that of the plane on which he served. He jokes about having to get to Tokyo to get rid of the plane on which he was on.
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Robert Rose recounts his visit to Korea in 2008 as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs tour. His visit included commemorations at many battle sites as well as a trip to the DMZ where he saw the reality of the relationship between North and South Korea. Although he did not personally witness the devastation of cities like Seoul and Busan during the war, he recalls seeing photos and noted his amazement with how far the country had come in its rebuilding efforts.
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[Beginning or Recorded Material]
Bob Rose: My name is Robert James Rose. R O S E and I’d like to welcome you to Canada on your first initial visit. I hope your stay here will be enjoyable and your mission will be successful.
Interviewer: Thank you. Thanks for your arrangement. You’re doing all this arrangement here in Trenton, right?
Bob Rose: Yes, I was able to gather a few of my friends who are still around.
Unfortunately, two of them are not able to be here today because of illness with their family, so we’ll just go with the numbers we have.
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
Bob Rose: I was born the 15thof October, 1929.
Interviewer: You were born in the year of the Great Depression?
Bob Rose: Yes
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Bob Rose: The week after I was born the stock market in New York crashed.
I remember that vividly. I was born in Windsor, Ontario. Actually my birth certificate reads Walkerville. The home of the famous Hiram Walker.
Interviewer: Who is that?
Bob Rose: Whiskey makers. Anyways, it is now incorporated into the city of Windsor, Ontario.
Interviewer: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.
Bob Rose: My father immigrated from England about 1920. He came to Canada with a wife and two daughters and settled in Chatham, Ontario. Unfortunately, shortly after they arrived here his first wife died and left him with the two girls. He sent the two girls back to England to stay with his sister and when he remarried the sister said well you can now take care of the two girls and shipped them back to Canada.
So they had more crossings on the Atlantic than Queen Mary. So anyway, following that my mother followed her brother out to Canada. She came out in 1922 or 23 and married my father in 26.
My brother was born in 1927 and I was born in 1929.
Interviewer: Tell me about the school that you went to
Bob Rose: Well I attended elementary public school in Leamington, Ontario, which is just south of the city of Windsor. I attended high school there as well. I had a very wonderful high school career and time in high school.
Interviewer: What do you mean wonderful career?
Bob Rose: Well I was able to participate in many athletics – basketball, baseball, track and field and was very successful and quite a good athlete.
Interviewer: When did you graduate your high school?
Bob Rose: In 1948, I graduated from high school
Interviewer: And what did you do?
Bob Rose: Well I had dreams of playing professional baseball. In fact, when I graduated from high school, or when I finished high school, I signed a contract with the now called St. Louis Browns baseball club.
Interviewer: St Louis?
Bob Rose: St. Louis Browns. St. Louis, Missouri. That team is now the Baltimore Orioles, they moved from St. Louis to Baltimore many years ago.
Interviewer: So you signed the contract?
Bob Rose: I signed the contract.
Interviewer: What was the contract? Can you share that?
Interviewer: I signed a contract with the baseball club at the lowest level of the professional league at that time, class D ball.
I had a visit to St. Louis in the fall of 1948 and went to a baseball tryout camp. There must’ve been 300 ball players there. I was successful getting through that adventure.
When I want to spring training camp in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, during the war Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was an army base at one time and that’s where the team that I was signed up to play with did their spring training.
Interviewer: What was your position?
Bob Rose: I was a first baseman.
Interviewer: First baseman?
Bob Rose: First baseman. 6’4”, I was a good first baseman.
They wanted me to be a pitcher. Anyway, so we went from Pine Bluff, which is just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. My bus broke down every hundred miles and we ended up in Pittsburg, Kansas, where we played in the Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri baseball league.
Interviewer: How much was the contract?
Bob Rose: I think it was $150 a month.
Interviewer: That’s not much
Bob Rose: That’s not much by today’s standard. I had trouble with my arm and couldn’t really play baseball anymore so I was shipped back to St. Louis and from there I decided that I didn’t want to hang around too much longer without getting treatment, so I came back home.
Interviewer: Must have been very frustrating
Bob Rose: Well it was disappointing, in a big way, because I was a good pitcher. My brother and I, he was the catcher, I was the pitcher. So from there I got a job. A friend of mine, a school chum of mine, in 1950, decided he wanted to join the Air Force so he went away to the Air Force in 1950.
He was working for the HJ Heinz company in Leamington in the cost accounting department and I went to talk to the personnel manager and said I would kind of like to take over Paul‘s job, so anyway I was fortunate enough to get his job working for the Heinz company.
Interviewer: What is it? What does Heinz company do?
Bob Rose: They are the tomato capital of Canada in Leamington, and they make all sorts of tomato products
Interviewer: Like the tomato ketchup, right?
Bob Rose: Tomato ketchup. Heinz tomato ketchup
Interviewer: Yep, we all know
Bob Rose: And Heinz tomato juice
Interviewer: And then what happened?
Bob Rose: Well I worked there for one year and my friend kept coming home on weekends telling me all about this wonderful Air Force life,.
I looked around the office one day and I said do I really want to spend the next four years in this place.
Interviewer: Working on tomatoes
Bob Rose: So one weekend I went to London where the recruiting office was
Interviewer: When was it?
Bob Rose: 1951. That was in October 1951.
I had the interviews with the psychiatrists and all those good people who want to know all about you. Next thing, I had a letter in the mail to report to London on 18th of October.
Interviewer: So where did you get –
Bob Rose: I had to tell my employers that I was leaving.
And anyway, so in October I want to London to the personnel selection unit where you go through a variety of tests and that sort of thing. They test your aptitude for air group and what area you might be best suited for. So I got through that adventure.
I was selected as a radio officer navigator and following that selection unit I spent six weeks in a grounds training school familiarization with Air Force protocols, history and adventures.
Interviewer: Did you like the radio navigator?
Bob Rose: Yeah, I was a good radio operator.
Interviewer: You were good at Morse code?
Bob Rose: In those days you had to do Morse code and some voice, but mostly Morse code for the conditions and the equipment we had in those days. So, yeah you had to do 25 or 22 words a minute Morse code. It used to be QRT will you stop sending, so something of that nature.
So it’s abbreviated instead of having to type out the whole words, use the system of code. We used that to get weather reports and send position reports. They were all in an international code, nothing secret about it, it was all international code according to [unintelligible] procedures.
Interviewer: It’s like the LOL right now. Young kids are using smart phones. Laugh out loud.
Bob Rose: Same idea
Interviewer: And IDK, I don’t know
Interviewer: So what happened to you, before that. Did you know anything about Korea around that time? Be honest.
Bob Rose: I was aware very briefly about the situation and Korea through television, newspaper.
But I guess I didn’t really get involved too much about the situation. It was something like the apartheid situation in South Africa at that time and I think in Canada we weren’t too concerned too much about that sort of situation.
Interviewer: Anything you learned from your high school history class about Korea?
Bob Rose: No
Bob Rose: Well I think it was much the same during World War II. The fact that Japan had invaded Korea, Japan had invaded just about everything and we weren’t aware of necessarily who the Korean people were and we have no association in Canada at that time with people from Korea, I don’t think.
But of course, it wasn’t until I got involved in the Air Force and posted to my squadron that I became very interested and knowledgeable about the Korean situation.
Interviewer: So tell me about those. After your six weeks of Basic military training as a radio navigator, what did you do and how did you become involved in the Korea?
Bob Rose: Well I went to radio Officer school after the initial six weeks indoctrination training. I went to a radio officer school and Clinton, Ontario. We were there from December 51 until August 1952. When I graduated as a flying pilot officer
Interviewer: You were a pilot officer?
Bob Rose: Pilot officer was my rank.
Bob Rose: That was my rank.
Interviewer: So second lieutenant?
Bob Rose: Second lieutenant
Interviewer: And then?
Bob Rose: While I was at this organization, at the school, I was selected to be a cadet officer commanding of the cadet training and graduated from there at a good rate.
Very successful. From there I was posted to 424 operational training unit at Lachine, Quebec, and after an inauguration program on conversion to north tower airplanes I was posted till 426 modern which is based at Lachine.
We used to fly out of Montreal international airport because there was no airfield at Lachine. So we used to take the bus every morning, go to the airport, climb into the airplane and away we go. My first adventure to Korea was in December of 1952.
That trip lasted about 17 days, I believe, because we have an additional four day layover in Japan waiting for another aircraft. By that time we had set up a system of placing crews around the various spots Tacoma, Elmendorf, Tokyo, and we had our own servicing people there as well.
So we would wait until the next aircraft came along. Lots of times the aircraft, we were down to about four flights a week at that time, so it wasn’t the frequency of across the Pacific.
We were associated with American USAF, the United States Air Force military air transport services. We went and we flew under MATS call signs. We were MATS call signs. We were loaded up in Tacoma. We would start out our mission in Montreal and we would do a cross country.
Montreal to Ottawa to Winnipeg, Edmonton and into Vancouver and then down to Tacoma. While we were doing that we were doing cross country air lift of military people across the country. Once we got to Tacoma we were loaded by the American service and did our briefings and weather reports and all of that sort of thing and off on the route as you see behind me.
We started off in Montreal, but we arrived in McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington. Our route from here is up to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. That would be about a six to eight hour trip.
From there we would have, normally a two-hour stopover, refueling and resupply if we need it. Then from there out to Shemya Air Force Base and it was just a dot in the Pacific island. Lots of times they had terrible crosswinds that we couldn’t land there or had trouble landing sometimes.
From there we went to Shemya, down to Haneda in Tokyo, Japan. That’s where we terminated our trips at that time. The earlier trips did med evacs of carrying casualties from the war back from Japan to Wake Island to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu and then to Travis Air Force Base in San Francisco.
We had a problem with the Northstar because the route from Hawaii to San Francisco was rather beyond the range of a Northstar.
Unless we had about a 15 not tail wind and then we could go. So by that time, commercial aircraft have come in. DC7s and they were assigned the duties of flying the med evacs back to the United States. Our route then went from Tokyo back to Shemya back to reversing of the route there.
Then we would go back to Montreal and change quick. One interesting trip I was on, coming out of Vancouver, going into Vancouver we were told to expect a delay. We’re not sure of the runway was going to be clear. When we landed we went rolling down the runway and we see on the side of the runway an aircraft upside down.
When I looked out the window I said hey it’s one of our birds and in fact it was our bird and it wasn’t tail number 7503. Our aircraft was tail number 7504 so we proceeded down to McCord after Vancouver and then up to Elmondorf.
Then to Shemya and when we arrived in Shemya we see over the side of the runway was an airplane and it was another Northstar. It had been blown off the runway. Fortunately, nobody was injured or hurt but it destroyed the airplane.
And broke the front end of the aircraft so I said to the skipper, now that aircraft number was 7505 and we were flying a 7504. I said to the skipper, and he was a former Norwegian underground person come to Canada after the war and I said we’ve got to get out of here and get to Tokyo and get rid of this airplane 7504.
Interviewer: Have a seat please
Bob Rose: So anyway, that was one of the rather interesting trips across there that occurred while I was flying. I did altogether eight round-trips from McChord to Japan and have very many wonderful memories of Tokyo in Japan.
We made trips down to Yokohama. We did a trip once up to Nikko which is a Japanese shrine city and climbed on the train with 3000 other Japanese people.
Interviewer: Have you been to Korea?
Bob Rose: Yes
Bob Rose: I was privileged in 2008 to join the department of Veterans Affairs tour to go to Seoul and we had just about a week in Seoul and it was commemorating the various areas and part of the battles and that sort of thing. And even a trip up to the DMZ, to the 38th parallel.
You get some indication of the situation that’s going on right there and that was rather, not amusing, but it was interesting to see the troops on the one side peering around the wall, looking across the other side, and they were doing the same on this North Korea side at Incheon.
It brought the whole thing into focus I think as to the relationship between North and South and they’re still not at peace really, unfortunately. Well it was a wonderful opportunity to see because I had seen pictures of the cities.
Seoul and Busan, during the war, how devastated they were. I was amazed at the wonderful city, both of those cities, are today. The rebuild was fantastic and wonderful, beautiful cities, and very impressive in that regard. So they have recovered very nicely, so we hope it doesn’t flare up again ever.
Interviewer: Ten million population in Seoul metropolitan area. That is one of the ten biggest cities in the world, Metropolitan city, and as you know… Where you at Korea at all during your service?
Bob Rose: No
Interviewer: You didn’t even land in Korea?
Bob Rose: No
Interviewer: No, but as you mentioned completely destroyed. Nothing vertically standing you know, I mean with some exaggeration. Now it’s the 11th largest economy in the world in 30 or 40 years, it’s unprecedented.
Bob Rose: Yes, it is. They’ve done a wonderful job of rebuilding the city. It amazed me to think of trying to fight a war in that terrain with all the hills in the mountains.
It was much the same as I had visited Italy later in the same kind of terrain that troops had to fight in, it was unreal you know. You’ve got to give those who went much thanks.
Interview: Do you know of any history teachers in Trenton? In middle school and high school?
Bob Rose: Not now, I know one who was a history teacher. I don’t know what the curriculum is, which history, war time. Canadians have tried to get the Canadian story into high schools and that sort of thing and it seems to be lagging a bit.
Interviewer: Any other message about your service during the Korean War? Especially to our younger generations.
Bob Rose: Well after I left 4 26 squadron and I was with them until 1954, then I went to Ottawa and I was with a 412 squadron which is a VIP transports squadron.
My most memorable trip on that with that organization was a 60 day trip around the world with our Minister of Health and Welfare, Mr. Paul Martin Senior, and we went to 30 different countries and 60 days.
Interviewer: All free?
Bob Rose: All free
Interviewer: I love that. What countries were you most excited for?
Bob Rose: Well we started out across the Pacific and we ended up, oh dear.
Interviewer: Was it in America?
Bob Rose: No, it was a European country. I don’t think we… It started out in Japan, but then we did a whole tour of Southeast Asia and down to Australia, New Zealand and back up through India, Pakistan. Back around the world that way. The girls were glad to see us home again. So that was a great trip.
Following that the Air Force had recovered to comment one airplanes that they had purchased after the war and were given by Britain to the Air Force during the war, to Canada. We had the first jet transport airplanes in the RCAF at that time, So we had training over and England and then we did a trip down to Johannesburg, the old POAC route and back again.
We wanted to bring them back across the Pacific, but somebody in Ottawa didn’t think that was a very good idea, so we came home and back home again.
Interviewer: I want you to make a comment about your legacy as a Korean war veteran and the importance of the Korean War, especially to our young generation.
What is the importance of the Korean War? What is your legacy and message to our younger generations?
Bob Rose: Well it was certainly a wonderful period of time in my career in the Air Force, to be involved in the air lift and I would suggest to young people that they should stop fidgeting with their thumbs and read some books.
Watch some interviews with people about the Korean situation, about other worldwide things. As you say, the schools should be doing more to educate the young people, to learn more about what’s going on in the world.
It’s rather interesting in this country, I think the new prime minister has really put a bee in the young peoples bonnet to get out and to vote, for one thing, and this recent election was very encouraging in that respect because before that young people were not even interested. They didn’t really know what policy or political life is all about.
So those are things that young people should be, and there’s more of it taking place. There are tours going through Ottawa that you will see the parliament in action and sometimes that’s not a very good idea it’s pretty messy sometimes, but to keep things going.
Interviewer: The Korean War is special because out of your service, honorable service and sacrifices of veterans from 21 countries, including Canada. Canada was ranked number three in terms of the sheer size of the soldiers. 27,000. Obviously Americans 1.9 million, after that it is England. 60,000. And then it’s Canada.
Out of that service, Korea came out beautifully. I want to thank you for your service and let’s go from here.
Bob Rose: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Thank you
[End of Recorded Material]