14 July 2016| Washington, DC. Last week legislation (House Bill 5887) was introduced into the U.S. House of representatives that will honor America’s Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) volunteers. Many thousands of American men and women trekked across the northern border in the early years of World War II, before the United States was officially a combatant. Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) pointed out the following during an interview: “The overwhelming majority of these Americans served or first served with the RCAF.”
Two memorial displays have been erected, and several are in planning. The first was placed in Virginia to pay tribute the Virginians who served. It may be seen at the Virginia War Memorial. A second is now displaying at Winter Haven Municipal Airport (KGIF) and in part recognizes the Florida’s volunteers.
The year 2016 is also significant because it marks the 75th anniversary of the composition of the famous sonnet High Flight, which was written by an RCAF-American. Furthermore, the attack on Pearl Harbor took place 75 years ago.
Americans of both sexes offered their lives in the defense of democracy, the Mother Country (England) and British Commonwealth before the U.S. officially entered into the conflagration in late 1941. Ironically, in the months after Imperial Japan’s attacks on military bases at and around Pearl Harbor a number of the men found themselves based in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands as members of Canadian squadrons. Others proved invaluable as instructors in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and many more were posted to operational units.
More than 8,000 Americans served in the RCAF alone and about 800 of them were killed. This statistic qualifies the Handley-Page Halifax as the fourth most significant heavy bombardment type in terms of American aircrew casualties. The majority of the deaths occurred in Halifaxes because Canadians, and therefore the RCAF-Americans, were largely sent to squadrons equipped with these bombers during the early war years.
Many of the American servicemembers eventually transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). A number of those who died were still flying in Canadian and British squadrons at the time of death, and therefore USAAF records often do not include their names. Similarly, RCAF histories and Rolls of Honor do not include these KIA because they were then USAAF personnel. Thus, this group was essentially in bureaucratic limbo when they died. To partially rectify this oversight research at BCMC is underway, and there is an initiative within Canada and the U.S. to recognize the services and sacrifices of the Americans with a Congressional Gold Medal.
A notable feature of the KGIF exhibit is a large marble plaque that contains an aluminum RCAF Crest. This symbol was forged from metal recovered from a Halifax bomber that was shot down over Belgium. BCMC supplied the Crest, and in a related effort Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) is currently exploring a submerged Halifax just off the coast of Sweden with the goals of recovery, restoration and display.
The commemoratives are on indefinite loan to KGIF (aka Gilbert Field), which was designated as Winter Haven Army Airfield throughout World War II. Gilbert Field served as a “Tactical Landing” subsidiary of the 3rd Air Force’s Sarasota Army Airfield and an auxiliary of the 60th Army Air Force Flying Training Detachment at nearby Lakeland. The 60th operated under the auspices of the Lodwick School of Aeronautics and provided flying training to RAF and U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Forces pilot candidates.