ARCHIVED - RCAF war dead from Virginia commemorated

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News Article / December 23, 2013

By Joanna Calder

Sixteen sons of Virginia, United States, who died while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War, were honoured earlier this year in Richmond, Virginia.

A stone tablet was dedicated in memory of the servicemen on October 22, 2013, at the Virginia War Memorial; nearly 200 people attended the ceremony, including many family members of those who were commemorated.

The research into the identities of the Virginians was led by Karl Kjarsgaard, one of the directors of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which is located in Nanton, Alberta. Over the years, Mr. Kjarsgaard has been working to identify the names of Americans who died while in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“In working with Karl Kjarsgaard … we initially had a list of 13 Virginia RCAF veterans to be honoured,” explained Jeb Hockman, director of marketing and communications for the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation.

“We ran an appeal in the media throughout Virginia to find living relatives of these men. During this time, the names of three additional men were brought to our attention by relatives and historians. The names of all 16 are engraved on the plaque which now hangs here.”

“Virginia becomes the first U.S. state to recognize its Royal Canadian Air Force sons killed in action fighting for freedom. As far as I’m concerned, these are Canada’s adopted sons,” Mr. Kjarsgaard told the Times-Dispatch newspaper of Richmond, Virginia.

He noted that several people had made significant contributions to the project: Mr. Hugh Halliday, an RCAF historian whose years of research contributed to the development of the master list of Americans who served with the RCAF; Mr. Chris Charland, an associate Air Force historian; Mr. Richard Koval, an RCAF historian who provided many details of names of Americans who served in the RCAF; and the Reverend Bob Bluford, a decorated U.S. Air Force Liberator pilot, living in Richmond, who lobbied for the tribute paid to the 16 Virginians.

The names of the Virginians are engraved on plaque to which are affixed the war-era Royal Canadian Air Force badge and the Virginia state insignia. What makes the plaque even more special is that the two badges are cast from aluminum recovered from a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax bomber – number LW682 – that was shot down over Belgium in 1944 and recovered in 1997. The badges were created by Behrends Bronze Inc., of Edmonton, Alberta.

Metal from the same aircraft was used to create the roof of the Bomber Command Memorial in London, England, which honours all members of Bomber Command – and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The London memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on June 28, 2012.

The metal for both the Virginia plaques and the Memorial’s roof was donated by the Bomber Command Museum.

Mr. Laurie Hawn, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, represented the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the ceremony in Virginia. Other speakers at the ceremony included Mr. Robert F. McDonnell, Governor of Virginia, as well as representatives of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, and United States military representatives. Canadian Senator Anne Cools, who represents who represents Toronto-Centre-York, also attended the ceremony at the invitation of the Bomber Command Museum. “For almost 10 years, Senator Cools has been supporting the projects, aims and objectives of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada,” explained Mr. Kjarsgaard.

“The stage [at the ceremony] included the Canadian Maple Leaf flag, and a local high school singing group opened the program by singing the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. Canadian singer Jim Blondeau performed an original song entitled ‘The American Eagle and the Proud Maple Leaf’,” said Mr. Hockman.

The day after the ceremony, Mr. Hawn described the ceremony to his fellow Parliamentarians.

“For going on two centuries, Canadians and Americans have crossed the 49th parallel to take up the fight of their neighbour. Nine thousand Americans served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II, and 764 made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom.

“Yesterday I had the great honour of representing Canada at the Virginia War Memorial for the unveiling of a plaque to honour the memories of 16 sons of Virginia who died in the service of RCAF Bomber Command. I joined Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, military and civilian leadership, veterans and families of the fallen 16 to unveil a stone tablet with aluminum crests of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the RCAF.

“Courage and sacrifice know no boundaries,” Mr. Hawn continued. “The world is a better place because Canadians and Americans have stood together in troubled times. The ties that bind Canada and the United States have been forged in common cause and the blood of our sons and daughters.”

The 16 Virginia airmen who died in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force are:

  • Pilot Officer Felix Paget Boswell of Montgomery, died on August 12, 1942
  • 1st Lieutenant John Miller Earman of Rockingham County, died April 27, 1944 (while attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force)
  • Flight Lieutenant James Pyle Jessee of Lebanon, died September 15, 1946
  • Sergeant Lionel Lodowick Burks of Bluefield; died July 24, 1942
  • Warrant Officer Class II Thomas Coke Du Bose of Richmond, died April 5, 1943
  • Sergeant Ralph Theodore Edwards of Norfolk, died April 2, 1942
  • Pilot Officer Ronald Hayes of Norfolk, died December 7, 1942
  • Pilot Officer James Gilmer Heath of Richmond, died September 16, 1942
  • Leading Aircraftman William Deveraux Langhorne of Chatham, died October 9, 1941
  • Flying Officer Harry Alexander Lowe of Chatham, died July 13, 1945
  • Pilot Officer Harold Barbour Moore of Boones Mill, died March 2, 1943
  • Leading Aircraftman Charles Francis Nash of Portsmouth, died June 13, 1942
  • Flying Officer Richard Fuller Patterson of Richmond, died December 7, 1941
  • Pilot Officer Esmond Mark David Romilly of Alexandria, died November 30, 1941
  • Warrant Officer Class I Fred Renshaw Vance of Norfolk, died July 13, 1943
  • Flight Sergeant Thomas Austin Withers of Roseland, died July 27, 1942

(Note: Most of the information about the airmen’s ranks and dates of death are drawn from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.)

About the Virginia War Memorial

Planning for the Virginia War Memorial began in 1950; construction was completed in 1955 and the memorial was dedicated the following year. The Shrine of Memory is the centrepiece of the memorial, and the grounds also contain an auditorium, visitors’ centre and education centre.

The Shrine of Memory originally had the names of Virginians who died as a result of hostile action in the Second World War and Korea engraved on its stone and glass walls. An addition was dedicated in 1981 to honour those killed in the Vietnam War and, in 1996, the names of those killed in the Persian Gulf were added. There are nearly 12,000 names in total inscribed on the walls. 

At the southern end of the shrine is the statue “Memory”. Designed by Leo Friedlander and sculpted by Joseph Campo and William Kapp, the statue, carved from 45 tonnes of white marble and standing seven metres tall, reflects both the great sorrow and pride felt by Virginians for their fallen brothers and sisters.

With files from Veterans Affairs Canada and the Virginia War Memorial website.

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