Willis Verch graduated high school in 1946, then joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving many years. He was an Air Traffic Assistant, and also flew as a Loadmaster on cargo airplanes. Six months of his military career were spent serving during the Korean War, from July through December 1950. He describes his journey from Tacoma, Washington by way of the Aleutian Islands, to Haneda Airforce Base in Japan, for the transportation of American cargo and troops during the Korean War. Additionally, he describes the difference between American and Australian barracks, the amount of money Canadian soldiers were given during the war, and taking part in the 1950 Korean Airlift.
We Needed Some Sleep
Willis Verch describes transporting rockets to Kimpo Airforce Base in Korea, from Haneda Airforce Base in Japan. He discusses his main job, which was actually to take American troops or freight from Tacoma, Washington, to Japan, by way of the Aleutian Islands. He explains his role as Loadmaster, and having to move from the American barracks to the Austrailian barracks because of lack of sleep.
Willis Verch describes the round trip flights made by the Royal Canadian Air Force from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, to Haneda Air Force Base in Japan. The flights were made to transport American cargo and troops to Japan, so they could be taken to Korea on the war front. He uses a map to show the stopping points in the Aleutian Islands, and the locations of all airports that were used to accomplish the transport missions.
Willis Verch describes the amount of money he was paid in the Royal Canadian Air Force while serving during the Korean War. He gives insight into the use of his money during the recovery of the Japanese economy after World War II, as he spent most of it in Japan for essentials. He explains that after his six months was served he went back to Ottawa to a different squadron.
[Beginning of recorded material]
W: My name is Willis Verch. Willis , W-I-L-L-I-S V-E-R-C-H.
I: What is the ethnic origin of this last name, Verch?
W: It’s German.
I: German. Okay. So tell me what is your birthday?
W: Twenty-eighth of August, 1928.
W: Twenty-eighth of August, 1928.
I: Twenty-eight. Where were you born?
W: Up in Eagenville, Ontario.
I: Could you spell the place?
W: No. V-I-L-L-E.
I: V-I-L-L-E, Eganville.
W: Yes. Ontario.
I: Um, as you said you are of German lineage, right?
W: Well the name is German, yes.
I: So please tell me about your parents and your siblings when you were growing up.
W: Well, well my parents were, uh, fourth generation Canadians. And, uh, we lived in Eganville.
I: Um hm.
W: And we, I was one of nine children.
I: Where were you, in the eldest or youngest or in the middle?
W: I was right in the middle.
I: Middle, right in the middle.
W: Yeah. And my older brothers all served in the, in the Second World War, and my younger brother served din the FCAF as well.
W: After the War.
I: Right. What was your parents doing?
W: My dad was a lumberman and a carpenter
I: Um hm.
W: My mother was a housewife.
I: Um hm.
How about schools you went through there in Eganville?
W: I finished high school in Eganville.
I: What high school?
W: I don’t, well, I guess it was Egenville Continuation School.
I: Um hm. When did you finish your high school?
W: In 1946.
I: What did you do then after that?
W: I joined the RCAF.
I: Oh. Royal Canadian
W: Air Force.
I: Air Force. RCAF. And where did you get
the basic military training?
W: Here, right here in Trenton.
I: Trenton. What kind of training was it at the time?
W: Well, that was the manning depot. That was just to learn about, about how the Air Force worked and we learned, they taught you drill and, uh, things like that.
I: Um. How long was it?
W: It was, uh, two months.
I: Two months. And why Air Force, not Army, not Navy. Why Air Force?
Why did you choose that?
W: The best outfit there was.
I: Best outfit.
I: So you were attracted to the uniform.
W: No, I wasn’t attracted to the uniform. I was attracted to the Air Force.
I: Air Force.
W: We had a lot of neighbors that were in the Air Force.
I: Uh huh.
W: And my brothers were in the Army and, uh, so I thought I would join the Air Force.
I: Uh. So after the basic military training, where did you go and what did you do?
W: I went to Edmonton
I: And then? What did you do?
W: I, we loaded airplanes. I was a traffic, air traffic assistant
I: Air traffic assistant.
W: That is looking after the loads in the airplane, checking in the passengers, flying on the airplanes as a load master
W: We call a load master today.
I: Could you detail me about what did you actually loaded to the aircraft? What kind?
W: All kinds of cargo and passengers and everything else.
I: What kind of aircraft?
W: At that time, we were loading Dakotas.
W: They, they’re Dakotas, C47s.
I: C47. It’s a big huge cargo airplane?
I: Uh huh.
W: Well, it was big at that time. It’s not big now.
I: Um hm. Any other aircraft that you worked with?
W: Out there in Edmonton?
I: No. What was the unit name?
W: 435 Squadron.
W: 435 Transport Squadron.
I: Um hm.
W: And we were a little subsection called, uh, 1AMU, 1 Air Movements Unit.
I: Uh huh. Can you explain what is the big picture of the structure of the Canadian Air Force at the time? How many squadrons, what kind of units? Can you give me that?
W: No. We only had about, uh, I think we had about five transport squadrons, and we had, uh, a couple of fighter squadrons, and I think that was it. It was right after the War. The Air Force was not built up yet.
W: We started building up for the Cold War probably about 1948-49.
I: Did you know anything about Korea? We have a backdrop of the, uh, maps there, and there’s, uh, Canada, Alaska and United States on your right and then Korean Peninsula, Far East here in the left. Did you know anything about Korea around the time that you were graduating, joining Air Force?
W: Well, what I learned about it in school, yes.
I: Oh, really?
We knew about, we knew that, uh, the Japanese had taken over Korea as part of Japan of, some sort of. Was it not during the War?
W: And, uh, after the War, very little was said about it.
I: Oh, so you learn about Korea.
I: It was in the History class?
I: You are the only, very few who knew anything about Korea before you, you know, joined
W: Well, we, we had a, up at the school there, we had a, a, a Reserve Army unit, and we used to, uh, get taught about that at, at the school.
I: That’s very good. Did you know anything, other country in Asia form your class?
W: Oh yeah. We learned about China and we learned about Japan.
I: Uh huh.
W: We learned about the Philippines.
I: That’s very nice, Willis. Very nice. Okay. So what were you doing
at the time that the Korean War broke out?
W: I was flying as a loadmaster in 426 Squadron in Lachine, Quebec.
I: 426 Squadron.
W: Yeah. Lachine, Quebec.
I: In Quebec?
I: And when did you leave for Korea, or what did you do?
W: We went to, uh, on the Korean airlift in, uh, the summer of 1950.
W: We were the first, we were on the first group of people that went over, our airplanes. We left Lachine.
I: And then?
W: and then went to, uh, Tacoma, Washington.
W: McChord Air Force base, yes.
W: and flew from there to Haneda in Japan. I think
I: And then? Did you actually go to Korea?
W: Yes, I went to Korea on a American C, C82.
W: It was a pre-runner to the C119, aye.
I: Yeah. So where did you go to Korea?
W: We went to, uh, Kimpo Air Force Base. That was a, that was a, uh, mostly in a military base then. There was a lot of Americans were there. And, uh, we were not flying in there with our airplanes. We had to go in with an American airplane.
I: Right. C82.
W: Yes. Old C82.
I: And any other thing that you saw from around the area?
W: We didn’t stay very long. We stayed about a day, half a day.
I: Half a day.
W: Yeah, and came back.
I: What was your mission? What did you carry from Japan to Kimpo?
W: We carried, uh, I think they were rockets.
W: Yeah. We used to haul them over on our Norstars and then Americans would take them from Haneda into Korea.
I: Hah. So what kind of rocket was it?
It was for Air Force or was it
W: It was a rocket for the, uh, for the fighter.
I: Um hm. F86?
W: I don’t know what they were flying at that time. But I think they were F86’s.
I: Um hm. So you are mostly from commuting, flying from Japan to Kimpo and then just stay half day there and then go back.
W: Well, we went, this was only a one-time trip.
I: Only one time?
W: Yeah. We were, our main job was to fly from Tacoma to Japan with the loads.
I: I see.
We carried American troops, and we carried American freight, whatever they wanted.
I: Um. So most of the people who will watch your interview is young students in middle school and high school. So you need to give some idea of what was your major mission, and the mission was from, taking flight from Tacoma to Japan and
By way of Anchorage, Alaska and Shemya, out in the Aleutians and then into Grenada. And the first trips were made, we didn’t change crews. We didn’t have sleep crews. We didn’t have enough crews.
W: So we were up 30 hours by the time we had
I: How many were crews? How many were pilots there?
W: Uh, we had two pilots. Oh, you mean total pilots? I don’t know how many crew
I: No, in that first flight that you, you didn’t have any sleep crew so that you have to be in 36 hours.
W: Thirty hours.
I: Thirty hours. And how many pilots?
W: Two pilots.
W: One radio officer, one navigator, one flight engineer, and one load master.
I: And you were load master.
W: I was a load master.
I: So about six people.
I: And you were up there in air for 30 hours.
I: Without sleeping.
I: Oh, must been hard.
W: And then they finally got a few sleep crews in, uh, Anchorage and then in Shemya.
I: Hm. When you go to Japan,
where did you stationed?
W: First of all, we stayed, uh, with the Americans. And then, uh, our boss, our Commanding Officer didn’t like the way we were being woke up at four in the morning to get up and, and, uh, sweep the barracks, and we’d only got in sometimes an hour or so before that. So we moved to, with the Australian Army at, uh, in [Ebasu], and we stayed there.
So you, Canadians didn’t like the way they were treated in American barracks.
W: Well, in the transient barracks, you had to get up early in the morning and clean it up. And sometimes we’d just get in there.
W: And they didn’t care. We still had to get up.
W: So our sleep was interrupted and, uh, so we moved, we moved over to the [Ebasu].
I: And how did Australian barracks treat you?
I: Was it better?
W: Well, we had our own barracks, and nobody bothered us.
I: That’s good.
W: Yeah. [Ebasu] was the place where the Japanese tested their, uh, subs where the people would, uh, ride on the top of them and on the, on the, on the torpedo directed into the ship.
I: Um hm.
W: So that was, that spot was still, still quite, quite, um, which is, uh,
being used. It wasn’t being used, but all the swimming, the pools where the, where the water was were still there
I: Um hm.
W: when the Australians took over that part of the, of the base.
I: Um hm. We have a map behind you, and could you just stand, move to the map and point where did you started and where did you go, things like that?
W: Yes. We were operating out of, uh, Tacoma.
W: Washington, yes.
I: Um hm.
W: which is, uh, McChord Air Force Base.
W: And we would fly, normally in the morning, we’d take off and, uh, we’d fly to Elmendorf
W: help there for two hours, refuel, have something to eat and then go on to, uh, Shemya.
W: in the Aleutians, yes.
I: That’s Aleutians.
I: And stay there two hours, about two and then go onto Grenada.
W: And we’d make it to Haneda
W: and arrive there, this would be a night trip here. We’d get there early in the morning.
I: Must be very noisy inside of the aircraft, right?
W: That’s why I’m wearing hearing aids, yes. Yes, it was very noisy.
I: Too bad, right?
I: And then, can you point to Kimpo?
W: Kimpo is, uh, right there. Oh, sorry. Over here.
I: Right there, yes.
W: Yeah, there’s Kimpo.
I: Uh huh. So what, how do you feel? Are you, when are you pointing the hops or the cities that you stayed and flight, how do you feel now? What do you think?
W: Well, we were lucky. We, you know, one year we were coming back, one day we were coming back from Haneda to Shemya and, uh, the only alternate to Shemya would be Adak.
And there was a point here where you had to make up your mind where you were gonna go
I: Um hm.
W: Shemya was gonna be closed in. But they said you’ll get here before it closes in. And when we got there, it was closed in. And, uh, the pilot, Gordie Webb, the pilot, Gordie Webb, managed to land in thick fog. It was so thick that the airplane, we couldn’t taxi. We didn’t know where we were going.
W: And the Americans had to come out and, uh,
and, uh, tow us in.
I: Um. Any episode you remember specifically that was kind of dangerous, you have almost lost your life or any episode that you want to share with me?
W: No, only that, uh, that one with Gordie Webb landing at the, uh, in the fog, in the dense fog. If we hadn’t of landed, we had no, we didn’t have enough
fuel to go to the alternate.
I: What happened?
W: Well, we landed, he landed okay.
I: Um hm.
W: Below limits it was. But, there was no other choice.
W: We were all up in the cockpit looking out the windows making sure that we were, the lights were down underneath. But Shemya has a big runway, uh, and it’s quite wide, aye.
I: Um hm.
W: So, um,
I: Quite okay.
W: We landed okay.
I: Um. So you just been to Korea just once.
I: Uh huh.
W: Yeah. Our, our mission was to fly only the stuff to, to Haneda. And we hauled a lot of American troops on those trips.
I: Um hm. How much were you paid? What was your rank, and how much were you paid?
W: I was an LAC which is, uh, the same as a Private.
W: Uh, I think my pay every two weeks was $17.00.
I: Every two weeks $17?
I: That’s not much.
W: Not very much at that time, no.
I: So it’s about $40 a month, right? With the $1 at the time, what were you able to buy?
W: Not very much.
I: For example.
W: Well, a dollar in those days, uh, well, let’s see.
We could eat, eat a meal for a dollar.
I: Good meal?
W: Especially in American, uh, canteens.
I: So if you spent meals, okay, maybe $2 per day, but you have been feed, right, free?
W: We got what they called temporary duty allowance which was, they’d pay us so much for a meal, depending how long you were gone. So we didn’t
have to use our own money.
I: Right. So $40 you could save all of it.
W: No. You had to buy a, your civilian clothes, and you had to do your traveling, and you had to do your laundry and stuff like that.
I: Um hm. So did you spend all of it, or did you, were you able to save it?
W: No. I spent most of it.
I: Mostly in Japan must be, right?
I: Yeah. How was Japan?
W: Japan was, uh, good. It, it’s just recovering from the War, and everybody was
rebuilding. Yeah. They liked us. We, we bartered for everything that we, with the Japanese.
I: So when were you discharged from this mission?
W: Well, I left, uh, after six months.
I: After six months?
W: Yeah, I went to
I: So which
W: I went to 435 or 12th Squadron in Ottawa because I hadn’t been flying for many years, and I needed rest.
I: So what, do you remember the month of the year that you
stopped working on this mission?
W: I think it was about December of the same year.
W: fifty, December.
W: We went over in July of, in July of 1950
I: Um hm.
W: And I finished in, just at Christmas time.
I: Um hm. Did you know anything going around in the Korea at the time, the Korean War? Did you hear anything about it?
I: Tell me. What did you hear?
What did you know?
W: Well we knew that the Chinese interfere, in, inter, they entered, entered the War.
I: Intervened, yes.
W: And the more, the Americans were almost, they sent way down to the South. And then the Americans under MacArthur, uh, chased them back again. And I was in 412 when, uh, Armistice
I: Um hm.
W: We kept track of it.
I: So you know what happened to Korea.
I: Tell me. What do you know?
W: Well, Korea’s split in two, the North and the South. And, uh, that guy in the North, he’s not very good.
I: Right. Are you proud about your service?
W: Yes. I spent, uh, 38 years in the regular Force and then another 10 years [INAUDIBLE] cadets.
I: Hm. So there is
a tremendous impact of your service upon your life.
W: That’s all I did. That’s the only place I worked.
I: You’re Air Force forever.
I: Um. Got it. Have you been back t o Korea?
I: No. Would you?
W: Sure I’d go back if I had the chance.
I: Any message?
W: Well, the only message I have to say is, uh, you gotta protect your country. If you don’t,
somebody else has to do it for you.
W: And I don’t think that too many people right now would, would, uh, you know, join up just to, to go to a War.
I: Yeah. Nobody wants to go to War, right?
W: The world is changing.
I: That’s right. So you want to ask them to join the Air Force?
W: Yes. If you’re gonna join anything, join the Air Force.
I: Okay. There you go. Willis, thank you so much sharing your story with me today.
W: Thank you very much.
I: Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]