"The soldiers had arms missing, legs missing, pipes and gadgets holding their faces together – it was the sight I was not prepared for...that's when the movie ended, and the reality of war set in."
My name is Mort Lightstone. I joined the Canadian Air Force when I was eighteen. I was trained as an Air Force navigator and I stayed in the Air Force until I retired. I served for 28 years. During that period of time I acquired over 6,600 hours flying on various military operations and missions.
My first exposure to a war environment was the Korean War. I joined the Air Force in 1951 and graduated as an officer and got my navigator's wings in April of 1952. At that time the Canadian Air Force was flying North Star aircraft – they're a four-engine transport aircraft – on what was then known as the Korean airlift. The squadron I was on was 426 Transport Squadron and we were stationed at Lachine, just outside of Montreal.
Typically, we brought troops, supplies, mail, medicines to Haneda, and we would return with, usually, wounded soldiers. These wounded service personnel were quite often Americans. My first flight on the Korean airlift was a rather dramatic one for me because, at the time, I was 19 and, up to that point, I understood the glory of war to be what we all see in the movies. However, while we were in the cockpit, ambulance buses arrived at the aircraft with the wounded. Prior to that point I have to comment that some additional personnel were on our flight and these were American army nurses. They looked really tremendous. Any nurse would look particularly good in a nice well-tailored uniform. Eventually, we heard from the rear-end crew that everybody was strapped in and we were ready for takeoff and off we went. We climbed up to altitude and set on course for Shemua, and I knew that once I established that we were in fact on track and everything was okay, I decided, as a nineteen-year-old – you can't forget that – to go back as an officer and chat to the wounded soldiers and tell them how proud we are of what they've done and so on. And I put on my new officer's cap and I was very proud of that cap, because it symbolized a lot to me. Anyways, I stepped into the cabin and I was not prepared for the sight that was in front of me. All the wounded were in stretchers, strapped on special riggings that we carry in the aircraft. Those very pretty nurses were scurrying around, their uniforms were already covered with blood, and the soldiers had arms missing, legs missing, pipes and gadgets holding their faces together – it was the sight I was not prepared for. And the term I use to describe that is that's when the movie ended, and the reality of war set in. Did a 180, went back into the cockpit, strapped myself into the navigator's position, and sat there for the remainder of that twelve-hour flight. I was really shaken by that one experience.