Two area men died fighting for Canada
Sept. 10 marks both the 75th anniversary of Canada declaring war on Germany during World War II, and the day the “They Grow Not Old” memorial is unveiled, honoring those who served in WWII.
Two area men served and died in the war as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force — Otto W. Johnson of Detroit Lakes, and William O. Krueger of Audubon. Their names appear on the memorial wall.
Four years ago, WWII veteran Archie Londry decided it was time to have a memorial to honor the men he served with so many years ago.
“I had thought about it for some time and decided it should happen,” the Canadian said.
So he started talking to others about his memorial idea, and the first question was where it would be located. Ottawa, Ontario, was suggested. Winnipeg was also suggested.
“I said ‘no, it will be in Brandon, where an awful lot of the activity took place,’” Londry said. “In spite of what a lot of people think, it’s a national memorial in central Canada.”
So working with the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, people from all over the world can come see the Canadian memorial.
The Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It is the only museum in the world dedicated solely as a memorial to the airmen who trained and served, and especially those who died, in the air war of 1939-1945. It is located in Manitoba, where much of the training was carried out.
“This is huge,” Londry said of the stature of the memorial. “It will certainly be one of a kind in Canada, and it will be among the top ones in the world.”
The granite wall stands 300 feet long and is inscribed with the over 18,000 names of RCAF personnel who perished while fighting for freedom in the war. Of those men, 847 were American.
To pay for the memorial, Londry said there has been tremendous support from communities and individuals. The Canadian federal and provincial governments have verbally pledged money to the memorial but haven’t provided any funding yet, he said.
Each entity was to raise $400,000 for the project, but so far it’s just been the laymen collecting, which Londry said, has been way over the $400,000. So their goal is to raise another $1 million to cover what the government hasn’t donated.
“This project is very important to me. To some people, those are just names carved in stone. To me, it’s a story of the end of very young life of the boys I went to school with and I flew with, including my roommate,” Londry said.
“One of the toughest jobs I did in all the years I was there was gathering up his belongings to send home to his extremely young widow. I can scarcely talk about it without getting emotional, and I’m passionate to see it done,” he added of the memorial.
After Canada had joined the war, but before the United States joined, Americans simply crossed the border into Canada to help fight against Nazi Germany.
By the time the United States entered the war in 1941, Canadian and British leaders had processed and approved 6,700 applications from Americans to join the RCAF.
He said that President Roosevelt had a clandestine operation that allowed pilots to go up to Canada before the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into the war.
Some early instructors in the RCAF, Londry said, came from the United States.
“After Pearl Harbor, they could remain in Canada as part of the RCAF, or they could transfer back to the (armed forces of the United States),” Londry said. “Many preferred to stay here, and many preferred to go back.”
Londry, who was in from 1941-45, served as an instructor in the RCAF, not necessarily by choice, though.
“Nobody wanted that job, but we realize now it was one of the most important jobs during the war,” he said.
Londry and his memorial committee worked with architects to produce the “They Grow Not Old” memorial concept. The wall is in the shape of an airfoil, the wing of an aircraft. The bronze statue is of an airman in training.
Londry said the look on the man’s face was very important to him.
“When we were discussing it, I said I wanted to see a look of grim determination on his face … the sculptors have done a wonderful job. The expression is perfect.”
The committee is eagerly anticipating the unveiling next week, though there’s still work to be done. He said there have been health issues, a fire in the foundry where the statue was cast, and several floods in the area for the first time since 1940.
But they will continue on nonetheless. The unveiling includes a program and a meal.
For more information on the memorial, visit the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum at www.airmuseum.ca.