Even though it has been more than seven decades since Stettler’s Len Schofer first enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the three years he spent as a radio operator and air gunner remain etched in his mind.
Now 90 years old, the former airman admits he becomes very contemplative as Nov. 11 approaches.
“I remember everything,” he said. “But my friends that I trained with are all gone now. The ones I knew.”
Schofer – who now resides at Paragon Place – lived in Saskatchewan during the Second World War, enlisted right out of high school. He was 17 years old when recruiters came to his school, and he signed up right away.
“I needed my parents’ permission,” he recalled. “I went and told them I was enlisting and that was pretty much that.”
Due to his age, though, he never made it into the European or Pacific theatres, and was instead based in Canada.
“They wouldn’t send you until you were 19,” he explained. By the time he turned 19, though, the war had ended.
Both of his brothers had also enlisted, though they went in the army. Like Schofer, one of his brothers didn’t see overseas action due to his age. The elder brother, though, spent about six years in the fight.
“We were really lucky,” he said. “All he got was some shrapnel wounds.”
While he could have joined his brothers in the army, it was flying that had caught his attention.
“Planes always used to fly overhead,” he said. “I wanted to fly.”
During training, there was a lot of excitement, as the young men in training – along with Schofer – got to learn different skills. Schofer had wanted to be a pilot, but aptitude testing had him placed as a radio operator and gunner instead.
His training and service had him based throughout his military career in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. His next posting was to be in Halifax, N.S., to prepare for overseas service. Then the war ended and his transfer was cancelled, no longer needed.
Horrors abounded at homeEven though Schofer didn’t serve overseas, he had his fair share of exposure to the horrible blessings conferred by war, he said. From near misses in the planes to returning soldiers and pilots, the horrible memories are carved just as deeply, if not deeper, than the happy ones.
“I remember once we were doing a patrol (along the British Columbia coast),” he remembered. “We ran into a bank of fog, which means ice. Even with de-icers, we had nine inches of ice on the wings and were losing 500 feet a minute in altitude.”
With British Columbia’s mountains, anything lower than 5,000 feet was dangerous – and the plane was only at 10,000 feet when the wings started icing up.
“Fortunately we got out of the fog,” he said. “But that was a close call.
The worst, though, were the trains of wounded soldiers coming home.
“The worst thing I ever saw was a trainload of casualties,” he said, his voice shaking. “I will never forget that as long as I live.”
The terrible sight of the young men – some with missing limbs, or with grievous wounds, or just so injured they couldn’t move – was compounded by the reaction of their waiting relatives.
They were glad their loved ones had come home alive, but often were heartbroken at the extent of the injuries their soldiers had suffered.
Toward the end of the war, many pilots Schofer had trained and flown with started making their way home. One of those pilots was the second one Schofer had flown with.
“He had flown two missions,” Schofer recalled. “He was a nervous wreck when he came back.”
Many of the pilots who came back had their own terrible memories, too, and suffered from what is now known to be post traumatic stress disorder.
“Do I ever regret that the war ended before I could go over? No, not really,” Schofer said. “Not really.”