Korean War Legacy Project

Tom S. Sutton

Bio

Tom S. Sutton was born in Toronto, Canada on November 15, 1928. He was the youngest of six children, and his parents were immigrants from Scotland and England. He attended Parkdale, a public school in Canada, then joined the Canadian Air Force in 1946 after his high school graduation. Tom Sutton became an engine mechanic in the 426th Squadron, and later a flight engineer. He flew in the North Star Aircraft that was responsible for the Korean Airlifts. Later in his military career, Tom Sutton flew with VIP’s, including Queens, and Prime Ministers.

Video Clips

Korean Air Lift

This clip describes Tom Sutton's experience doing Korean air lifts on the North Star Aircraft. He discusses the role of the Korean air lifts. He also details the horrific weather conditions, and the tough long flights he experienced. Tom Sutton also describes how the pilots had to navigate by the stars, and the wind caused the plane to drift; at one point they drifted into Russian Communist territory.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-zXC6WyUws&start=604&end=927

Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

T:        My name is Thomas S. Sutton, uh.

I:          SUTT

T:        TTON.

I:          Um hm.  What is your birthday?

T:        My birthday is 1928, November 15.

I:          November

T:        fifteen.

I:          fifteen.  Where were you born?
T:        Toronto, Canada.
I:          Toronto.  Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.

T:        Well, we were a family of eight and,

0:00:30

of course, it was in the hard times of the recession growing up in Canada.  And, uh,

I:          Your parents were, what they were doing?

T:        My parents, uh, my father was a laborer.

I:          Labor?

T:        Labor, yeah.

I:          Um hm.

T:        He just did labor work.  He was, uh, from Scotland.

I:          Scotland.
T:        Yes.  And my mother came over in

0:01:00

about 1912 from England, um.  So they were really tough times.  There was no jobs.  It was what they called the Hungry 30’s.

I:          Yeah.

T:        Yes.

I:          It’s a Great Depression and, you know.

T:        It was.  But we, we

I:          It’s been really difficult times.

T:        We survived.  We didn’t  go hungry.  And in 19

I:          How many siblings do you have?
T:        I had, uh, four sisters and one brother.

0:01:30

I:          You are the eldest?
T:        I’m the youngest.

I:          Youngest.

T:        The youngest.
I:          Um.  So tell me about the school you went through.

T:        The school I went through is a public school.

I:          What

T:        And

I:          Name?

T:        Just, uh, it was called, uh, Parkdale Public School.

I:          Um hm.

T:        After public school, I went to a Central Technical School.  I was always interested in airplanes, so I went there and took a course on airplanes.

0:02:00

I:          When did you graduate high school?

T:        I graduated high school in  ‘46

I:          Um hm.

T:        and joined the Canadian Air Force.

I:          Right after that?
T:        Right after that.

I:          Um hm.  And where did you get the basic?

T:        My basic training was here in Trenton.

I:          What kind?

T:        Uh, it was indoctrination into the service life, foot soldiering and, you know, marching, drilling, studying

I:          Uh huh.

0:02:30

T:        And, uh, after that I, uh, I went to Camp Borden on an Aircraft Technician’s course, Aeroengine.

I:          Engine.

T:        Engine.

I:          So you were engineer.

T:        I started out as an engine mechanic.  I’ve had a very strange career.

I:          Um.  Wasn’t it difficult  for you to work on the engines?  It’s so complex.

T:        No, not really cause you, I was brought into it during my schooling, and then they

0:03:00

give you quite an extensive course at Camp Borden.  It was a year long course by the way.

I:          Uh huh.

T:        Camp Borden.

I:          Wow.

T:        To be a technician.  Then from there, I was transferred out to Edmonton, Alberta.

I:          Um.

T:        The 435 Squadron.  And we

I:          426 Squadron.

T:        435 Squadron at the time.

I:          435.

T:        Yeah, first squadron I went to.

I:          What kind of squadron was it?

T:        They were flying, uh, C47’s.

I:          Um hm.

T:        Up to Northern Canada.

0:03:30

And from there, I went down to Summerside, Prince Edward Island, and they opened a school for navigators.  And they had C47’s there, too.

I:          Um hm.
T:        I didn’t  stay there very long when I went back to Edmonton in, in 1949.  And I joined a squadron called Winter Experimental.

I:          Winter Experimental.

T:        We would take airplanes up to Northern Canada and see how they functioned.

0:04:00

I:          Um.

T:        Experiment on them.  And that was in 1949.  And in 1950, the Korean War started.

I:          Yeah.

T:        And 426 Squadron moved down to Tacoma, Washington, and they were looking for people to join the squadron.  So in 1950, I joined 436 Squadron down in Tacoma, Washington.

I:          Um hm.

T:        As a mechanic.  While I was there, I was shipped

0:04:30

up to Shemya in the Aleutian Islands where I did about four or five months there servicing aircraft as they were flying back and forth.

I:          So you were fixing the aircraft.
T:        I was fixing the aircraft.
I:          Uh huh.
T:        That wasn’t a very nice place to stay.  It was just an island about 1 x 2, and there wasn’t a tree on it.  It was just a big rock.

I:          Just big rocks?
T:        Just a big rock.

I:          No, no beaches?

T:        No beaches.  Maybe some grass

I:          Uh.

T:        Mostly rocks.  And it, uh,

0:05:00

always windy, always windy.  When the snow came down, it didn’t come down, it came across.  And it would white out very fast so you couldn’t even see from me to you.

I:          Because of the wind.
T:        Because the wind and the snow, yeah.

I:          Um.
T:        It wasn’t a very nice place.  Nothing to do, no entertainment.  So I spent five months there.

I:          Um.
T:        And then I came back to Tacoma, Washington and, uh, then I was sent over

0:05:30

to Tokyo for about four or five months.
I:          When was it?  When, when did you arrive in Tokyo?

T:        In Tokyo would be 19, uh, ’51, ’51 in Shemya, ’52, early ’52.

I:          Um hm.

T:        And I spent four or five months there.  Then I came back to the squadron, and I decided to become a flight engineer.  So I became a flight engineer in ’52,

0:06:00

and then I did maybe four or five trips to, uh, Tokyo on the Korean Airlift as an engineer.

I:          So from 1952, you did, participated in the Airlift.
T:        Oh yes.  I did about four or five trips.
I:          Um hm.  So what was your role inside of the air

T:        Airplane?
I:          Yeah.
T:        I, uh, handled the throttles, and I handled the un, undercarriage, uh, and if the plotter called for a flap,

0:06:30

I’d give him whatever flap he wanted.  If he wanted more power or less power.  Then I also kept track of the fuel and all the, uh, technical instruments.

I:          Um,

T:        Make sure everything was functioning properly.

I:          So you are the core.

T:        And when you stopped on the  ground, it was my job to service the aircraft, refuel it, get it ready for the next flight.

I:          Wow.

T:        So it was a pretty, pretty busy job.

I:          Um hm.  What was your rank?

T:        Um, my rank when

0:07:00

I was flying was Corporal.
I:          Corporal.
T:        Yeah.

I:          How much did they pay you?

T:        Oh, don’t ask me that, not very much.

I:          How much?

T:        Well, let’s see. When I first joined in ’46, I got a dollar a day.

I:          Dollar a day.

T:        One dollar a day, that’s all.  That was in ’46.

I:          Uh huh.

T:        And I would say maybe I was getting, oh, $75 a month.

I:          In 1952.

0:07:30

T:        Yeah.  I would say it would be around that.  Not much.

I:          Um.  Were you able to be in Korea at, at all?

T:        No, they wouldn’t let us go over.

I:          Um hm.

T:        The Australians would fly from, uh, Tokyo to Korea on their transport aircraft.

I:          Uh huh.

T:        I tried to get on it a couple of times, but they wouldn’t let me go.

I:          Um hm.  Did you know anything about Korea at the time?

T:        Not, not very much.  It, uh, you,

0:08:00

 

you read a little in the  books, and what you could gather out of the books.  But, uh, not a lot.
I:          Not a lot.

R:        No.

I:          Um hm.

R:        See, we were stationed in Tokyo.  We were stationed in a Commonwealth camp, and they were the, it was, the soldiers from Korea would come over for rest and recuperation.

I:          Right.

R:        to this camp.  It would be Australians, it was run by the Australians by the way

I:          Um hm.

R:        and the British would come over and the Canadians would come over.  They’d come over there for their

0:08:30

their rest from the War.  That’s where we lived while we were in Tokyo.

I:          So you are more familiar with the Tokyo and Japan rather than Korea.

T:        That’s right.

I:          Um hm.  Did any soldier talking about the Korean War to you?

T:        Oh, yes and no.  They didn’t like to talk about it too much.  They weren’t there.  They were there to get away from the War.  They didn’t want to discuss it very much.

I:          Right.

T:        But we

0:09:00

associated with them a lot and partied with them a lot and, uh, but, you know.  It’s, they were there to get away from the War.  They didn’t want to discuss it.  They were relaxing.  But, uh, they, they were a good bunch of people, really good.

I:          Have you been back to Korea?

0:09:30

R:        I was there once a long time ago on a flight, we were flying around the world.  We stopped in overnight.  That was all.

I:          Um.  Do you know what happened during the Korean War to completely devastated but now, do you, do you have any follow-up with the what Koreans have been doing?

R:        Right, right here in Trenton there’s quite a family of Koreans.

I:          Oh, is that right?
R:        Oh yes.  They  own a lot of the little stores in, in town

I:          Oh.
R:        One I deal with quite a bit.

0:10:00

Very nice people, very nice.

I:          Um hm.  the legacy of the Korean War?
R:        The legacy of the Korean War to me was the Korean Airlift.  That was very interesting and a very tough job.  Uh, what Bob was saying near the end when the Squadron moved out  of Tacoma back to, uh, to uh, Montreal and then started the lift out of Montreal, it was a long flight.

0:10:30

You’d start off Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton.  Then you spent overnight.  And you must remember as an engineer, every time you stopped, you worked.  You didn’t  just go and sit down and wait.  If anything was wrong in the airplane, you had to fix it.  You had to fuel it.  You had to get ready for the flight.  And then we’d do that in Edmonton, overnight in Edmonton.  Then we’d fly up to Whitehorse and the Yukon, and we’d fly back down to Edmonton overnight,

0:11:00

then we’d fly to Vancouver, and from Vancouver we’d fly  down to Tacoma, and there we’d become part of  the mass flights over to, uh, to Japan.  And the engineer, of course, every time you stopped, you worked.  Then, as an engineer, we’d fly up to Anchorage.  We would, what they called, slip at Anchorage.  One engineer’d get on.  Another engineer’d get off because our days were much longer than the pilot’s.  We were two, three hours before they started and

0:11:30

two, three hours after they started.

I:          Um hm.

R:        So it was a long flight.  And some of the flights I remember taking off out of Anchorage heading for Shemya, maybe going out two, three times before we could, and turning back because the weather was always shutting down in Shemya.  The weather was that bad.  Then taking off out of Shemya.  One of the things the pilots would say, you can take off and you can see

0:12:00

three landing lights.  So you’d go one, two, three and sit there.  One, two, three.  Finally you’d say one, to, three, and you’d go.  You’d sit and wasting fuel.  It was, it was really a tough life.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Yeah.  Long, you know.  We’re, in fact, one time we were flying over the Pacific, and we got the call from the ground control to make a drastic turn,

0:12:30

that we were flying over the Russian territory.  We had drifted.  So you had to be careful.

I:          Wow.

R:        cause you came high over it, over, coming down from Shemya.

I:          Why was it drifted?

R:        Well, the navigator, you’re navigating by the stars.

I:          Right.

R:        And them days, you didn’t have all this fancy equipment.  The pilot  did all, t he navigator did all their navigation by astro, by the stars.  And sometimes if the

0:13:00

wind gets you and you’re not aware of the wind, it drifts you off a little bit.

I:          Ah.
R:        And we drifted a little far North.

MALE VOICE:  I have a question.  What kind of plane was the Norstar to fly?  Did the, did the crew like it, or was it considered a bit of a lummox or

R:        It was a good airplane to fly, a lousy airplane to fly in.

MALE VOICE:  Oh.

R:        You got four Merlin engines.  Like we couldn’t talk like this if you were in the airplane.  you could hardly talk if you were sitting beside one another.  It was so noisy.  You’d be shouting at one another to

0:13:30

try and talk.

I:          You didn’t have any ear cover?
R:        No.

I:          Oh.

R:        Pilots did because they had earphones on.  But that’s why they stopped carrying passengers, uh, around, uh, air vacs because the airplane was just not comfortable enough.

MALE VOICE:  So otherwise it was a good plane to fly and reliable and all that.

R:        Oh, yes.  Yeah.  I flew around the world five times, and it was no problems.

MALE VOICE:  Except for your hearing.

R:        Well, my hearing lasted good.  A lot of pe, most Norstar people wear hearing aids.

0:14:00

I:          So the legacy of 426 Squadron in the Korean War is airlifting,

R:        Airlift

I:          Providing lot of, uh, resources, logistical items

R:        Yes.

I:          Soldiers, and evacuating the injured soldiers.

R:        Lot of mail, carrying a lot of mail back and forth.  But the airplane that was crashed, that’s what it had on board, just mail.

I:          So, oh, a lot of mail.

R:        Oh, stacks, you know.

0:14:30

Letters from the military back to their families.
I:          Were any parcels?
R:        Oh yeah, parcels, everything.

I:          What kind of parcels, any episode related to this mail or parcels?

R:        Uh, no because you wouldn’t see them.  They’d be covered up.
I:          Um.

R:        But, uh, the airplane that crashed, that’s what it was carrying was a load of airmail.

I:          That’s the best thing for the soldiers in the front line,

R:        Oh yeah.

0:15:00

to read the, you know,

R:        You see, we, we would carry it to Tacoma, then they’d off load it, and where it went from there, I don’t know because that’s, uh, that was the end of our flight was Tacoma, Washington.

I:          But you’re doing very good job to carry those good news and the news from the, the families and, you know.

R:        Yes, we carried both ways sometimes, too.

I:          Yeah.
R:        But mostly freight, mostly freight.

I:          Freight.

R:        Yeah.

I:          Um hm.

R:        I was only,

0:15:30

I was on one flight with hospital people on board, and the only thing we saw was they got very sick cause it was very bumpy.

I:          Um hm.

R:        The nurses got sick.  Everybody got sick.  But no.

I:          We had an interview with a nurse who was in Korea, Canadian nurse.

R:        Yes.

I:          She was a officer and also she was in that airplane.  Yeah.

R:        The Norstar.

I:          Yeah.

R:        Oh yeah, I would imagine.

I:          Um hm.

R:        You know, cause the, they’d fly the nurses with the patients.

I:          Yeah.

0:16:00

R:        But the, this flight, the nurses even got sick.

I:          You had a good time with the Canadian Air Force.  What is the impact of, uh, Air Force in your life?
R:        Well, in my life I, uh, went from 426, I was there for seven years with 426.  I was moved up to 412 Squadron, like Bob was saying, the VIP Squadron because at  that time they were bringing the Comets into service in 1957.  So I had the privilege

0:16:30

of being a flight engineer on the Comet.

I:          So you were all over the world, too.

R:        All over the world, yes.

I:          Oh.

R:        Everywhere.

I:          Many stamps, interesting stamps in your passport.

R:        Yeah.

I:          No?

R:        Well, we never got our passport cause we

I:          You are the military.

R:        We had a, uh, government passport.

I:          Yeah, right.
R:        And when you didn’t keep it, you turned it in every time you left.

I:          Yep.

R:        But I remember one trip was interesting was the refueling to Hanoi.  We were the last airplane into

0:17:00

Hanoi before the Communists took over.

I:          Ah.

R:        That ‘s when the French were just leaving.
I:          Right.

R:        And we just  landed there, blew the French all over the place and got out.  They were having a parade, and we taxied out and got our [KELL] turned around it.  But, uh, yeah.  No, we used to go in some of the countries, go around the world stopping different  places, picking up mail and, and, uh, equipment from the different embassies and delivering mail to the embassies.

0:17:30

It was quite interesting.

I:          Yeah.  That’s an opportunity, right , to be all around the world.

R:        But in the Comet, we flew VIP’s and everything.  But the Comet  through the Queen.

I:          Queen was there?

R:        Queen used to fly on the Comet, yeah.

I:          You were with the Queen?
R:        I wasn’t on the same flight as the Queen.  I was on the flight behind the Queen.

I:          Any VIP you still remember?

R:        Oh, yes.  Governor General, Prime Ministers, uh,

0:18:00

King of, uh, Denmark flew with us.

I:          Wow.

R:        Oh yeah.  It was, it was a real interesting job.  And I did that for nine years.  And then I got commissioned from the ranks and became an officer, a technical officer.

I:          Um.

R:        So then I stopped.  My flying career was over.  And I would, uh, I spent time here, transferred here.

0:18:30

I was [INAUDIBLE] in charge of the maintenance people.  I did a year in Africa, and my wife and family did a year, three years in, uh, Germany.

I:          Would you do that again?

R:        What’s that?
I:          Being in the airplane and go all over the world.

R:        Yes and no.  It was hard on the  family.  I had five children, and my wife had to look after them all by herself because I would be home for two, three days and gone

0:19:00

for two, three weeks.  A lot of time.

I:          But do you enjoy that?
R:        I enjoyed it .  That’s the Norstar 505 crashed in Shemya.  It landed safely.  Just the wind picked it up, moved it onto the taxiway, just the wind picked it up and moved it off the runway over the edge of the cliff.

I:          Was it by wind?

R:        By wind, yes.  Cross wind.

I:          That’s strong.

R:        See, the runway and the

0:19:30

taxiway were side by side.

I:          Could you show me more?   Wow. Look at that.  And you are giving this picture to me?

R:        Yes, you can have it.

I:          So that we can scan this and put it into the, uh, website so that many people can see it.

R:        Here’s your chair.

I:          Yeah.  Absolutely.  Yes.  Thank you.  Any episode you wanna share with me?

0:20:00

R:        Any episode.  Other than having two and three Christmases in one, at once, cause you’re past the date line.  We’d slip in Anchorage, so you’d have one in Tokyo and one in Anchorage.

I:          Oh.
R:        You’d have them twice.
I:          Two Christmas.

R:        Two Christmases, yeah.  It was interesting.  Uh, other than, Shemya was a bad place to, to be.  There was a lot of Americans there, of course. It was American base.

0:20:30

I:          Um hm.

R:        There was no entertainment.  You could walk the island once and that was it.  Um,

I:          Well, how was the relationship with the American soldiers?
R:        Good, very good.

I:          Good?
R:        Oh yeah.
I:          Um hm.
R:        No problem.  Canadians were lucky.

I:          Why?
R:        We were, we were accepted by the Commonwealth, and we were also accepted by the Americans.

0:21:00

I:          It’s not lucky.  You earned it.

R:        Well, I don’t know, well of course, Canadians and Americans always got along good.  So, and Canadians and British Empire always got along good.
I:          Right.

R:        So we were liked by everybody.

I:          Yeah.

R:        The Americans and the, and the Australians didn’t get along too well cause the Australians were there as well.

I:          Yeah.

R:        Yeah.  Uh, Nothing really exciting.

0:21:30

Just a lot of hard work.

I:          But your whole career is very exciting.  You’ve been all over the world with VIP’s and your core engineer so that you provided all this expertise.

R:        It was, it was an excellent job, an excellent job.  As I say, it was hard work.
I:          Any other message to our young generation about  your service?
R:        Young generation, well all I could say to them is work hard, study hard,

0:22:00

and make something, use what you learn.  Don’t just learn and leave it go.  Use it.  I found that in Africa.  The Africans would study hard and learn hard, and then that was it.  Then they’d hold their hand out.  Pay me cause they didn’t, didn’t put their knowledge to work.  And that’s what you have to do.

I:          Um.
R:        Put your  knowledge to work.

0:22:30

Not only for yourself, for your country and for your friends.

I:          Very good, patriotic.  On behalf of Korean nation, I want to thank you for your service, especially as a member of 426 Squadron doing airlifting, carrying soldiers and, and freights and all this resources that required, necessary for, for the War.  So

0:23:00

R:        We did it because we wanted to.  And thank you very much.

[End of Recorded Material]

 

Photos

North Star Aircraft

A picture of a North Star Aircraft on the Shemya Runway, Alaska. Picture provided by Tom S. Sutton, a Canadian KWV from Trenton, Ontario. The airplane crashed after colliding head one with strong winds.

North Star Aircraft

North Star Wreck

A picture of a Canadian North Star Aircraft wreckage. Provided by Tom S. Sutton, a Canadian KWV from Trenton, Ontario.

North Star Wreck

North Star Aircraft Wreckage (1)

A picture of a Canadian North Star Aircraft wreckage.

North Star Aircraft Wreckage (1)

North Star Aircraft Wreckage (2)

A picture of a Canadian North Star aircraft wreckage.

North Star Aircraft Wreckage (2)