Veteran Stories:
Nathan “Sonny” Isaacs

Air Force

  • Photo taken at a Passover Seder at Isow's Restaurant in London, England, March, 1945. Nathan Isaacs, seen at the far left of the picture, celebrated the holiday with Padre/Rabbi Eisen and friends from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

    Nathan Isaacs
  • Photo taken at RAF Leeming, Yorkshire, England. Flying Officer Nathan Isaacs (No. 427 Lion Squadron, RCAF) is posing in front of a Handley Page Halifax bomber and several 500 pound bombs.

    Nathan Isaacs
  • Nathan Isaacs' dog tags. At the time of his service, his last name was Isaacovitch. Note that his religion is marked HEB for "Hebrew," something that concerned him should he be shot down over German-occupied territory.

    Nathan Isaacs
  • Bombing operations map showing targets within reach of RAF Leeming, No. 427 (Lion) Squadron, RCAF's home station in Yorkshire, England.

    Nathan Isaacs
  • Portrait of Nathan Isaacs taken in Toronto, Ontario in 1943, shortly after he attained the rank of Leading Aircraftman (LAC).

    Nathan Isaacs
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"I think it was Bremen where we were really attacked by the fighters and I’m not a religious man but I remember praying to God and saying, 'please, just get me through this one and I’ll never ask you again.'"

Transcript

Flying Officer Nathan Isaacovitch, Hebrew. J38327. When I first went into the [Royal Canadian] Air Force, they’d have roll call about 30 times a day and we’d have roll call for everything. So every time the corporal had to call my name, it was, "Isa...", I mean, he stumbled, stumbled, stumbled, so finally I went to the legal officer and said, "you know, I’m having trouble with my name, can I change it to Isaacs?" He said, "no, you’re too young." He said, "you have to be 21 to change your name." It was okay to fight for the air force, but I was too young to have my name changed.

It’s strange because so many of the airmen went down in their first operation, so the first was always a bad one, you know. But we made out fine. And then the second, third, fourth and the thirteenth is always, naturally, a bad one. Since they were night bombings, and no one was allowed to show a light at all, so you couldn’t put your curtains aside to look outside because the light would show, so we rarely saw what was around us. The only time we saw what was around us, when there was a direct hit and the plane exploded and disappeared.

I think it was Bremen [Germany] where we were really attacked by the fighters and I’m not a religious man but I remember praying to God and saying, "please, just get me through this one and I’ll never ask you again." And that was; we lost 33 aircraft that mission.

Well, we had an excellent pilot. He was a farmer from Mitchell, Ontario, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, I mean, you know, a lot of swearing goes on in the crew. The worst word he ever used was “gosh”. He was terrific. So I think that had a lot to do with being a good pilot.

Well, what did concern me was my name was Isaacovitch. My dog tags read, Flying Officer Nathan Isaacovitch, Hebrew. Your dog tags tell your religion in case you have to be buried, they want to know how to bury you. But if bailing out over Germany or Belgium or Holland, wherever the Germans were, I was always scared that if I had to bail out, what my chances of surviving were, even if I landed on the ground there. But I found later on that there were quite a few, as you probably know, of Jewish prisoners taken that were treated the same as everybody else.

The war was still on when we finished our thirty-fifth flight. I was sent home to Canada on leave and while I was home on leave, the war ended [May 8, 1945]. And that was it. I, I disagree with all the TV programs they’ve had, you know, blaming the Bomber Command for killing all the Germans and all this, bombing the cities. But I know for a fact that my 35 missions, when we went to the briefing room, they never at any time said bomb the civilians. We always had a target: it was a rail yard, a chemical plant, or mostly in the Ruhr Valley where all the steel mills were or everything else. Never were we ever told to bomb civilians. But hey, you’re dropping bombs 21,000 feet; you can’t be dead-on all the time.

Follow us