Veteran Stories:
Jack Cahan

Air Force

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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" And I ripped my great coat open. I said, “No, Sir, I’m a pilot.”"


So I was sitting waiting to go in to see the medical officer, this other medical officer walked down the corridor, saw my lapel pin denoting I was a scoutmaster. He came over and introduced himself.  He was a scoutmaster with a troop in Nova Scotia before he entered the air force.

And, anyhow, we established a bridgehead and it was just light hearted, and he went on his merry way.  I went in and started getting my medical, and, in the course of the medical, they, the medical officer asked me if my eyes watered in the wind.  Well, being new to the military, I’m wondering whether he’s throwing me a curve or a trick question.

And I started to sort of think. I said, “You know, rationally, I guess my eyes water in the wind.  Doesn’t everyone?”  And he went along, “Sorry, you’re going to have to go and see an eye specialist at the Department of Pensions and [National] Health,” DP and H* as it was called in those days, “and then report back to me after you’ve seen him.”

So I went, had the examination and the doctor says, “You need glasses.”  I says, Well, okay, go ahead, get them.”  And being the military, you expect them to get the glasses, which they do, and any requirements of that sort of nature were taken care of.  He says, “No, you go and get them.”  I says, “You want me to go and see an eye specialist. Have my eyes examined at my own expense and purchase some glasses, come back here and say, here’s my life, do what you want with it.  I don’t think it works that way.”

Anyhow, [I thought] “I’ll satisfy you.  I’ll go and see the doctor,” you know.  Well, I saw the doctor, and then that’s what he said, “You can get the glasses and then report.”  And I said, “The hell with you,” under my breath or words to that affect.  And when I went home and told my mother and father what had happened, they were happy as hell I didn’t.  Understandable, you know.  You be as proud as you want of your offspring, but when it comes to risking their lives, you can understand they’re reticent about you leaving and joining the service.  So they were happy.

Anyhow, I went back to my work as a store manager, and the recruiting officer kept coming in and buying his pastry and bread.  “Did you get the glasses?”  “No.”  I had the discussion with him, you know, I never wanted to say, “Look, don’t bug me, go buy your bread some place else,” because that’s not the business I was in.

Anyhow, I got a letter about three months later from the air force saying come in, produce the glasses or come and pick up your birth certificate and clear off our records.  So I went down to the recruiting unit and my customer “friend” was behind the counter.  He says, “Oh, you get the glasses?”  I said, “No.”  Well, he says, “We’re going to have to clear you through here now so we can get your papers back and close out the file.”  I said, “Do what you have to do. Let’s get it done with it.”

So as I’m sitting there, there was this new doctor, who, anyhow, he was a different man, a human being, and I’m waiting to have him finish me off.  The scoutmaster that I met three months previous walks by the open door, looks in and sees me.  Says, “What the heck are you doing here?  You should be flying over Berlin by now.”  So I explained what had transpired, and my suspicions.  He says, “Why don’t you leave me with Dr. so-and-so,” whoever the medical doctor was at the time, “and I’ll call you back in.”  So he had me leave the office.  To make a long story short, 30 minutes later I was sworn in.

I got the glasses, [they] came to me, went to see the medical officer at the base I was at then, when they came in.  He says, “You don’t need these,” and he threw them in the garbage.  Well, all I know that interruption in my career may have saved my life.  I don’t know.  It’s quite possible.  So I, in retrospect, I looked at it with a little grain of salt although I’d like to, I went back when I got my wings, I went back to the recruiting unit and that officer, recruiting officer, was still there.  He’d been there all through the war, and I was a sergeant as most of us were when we graduated, made it.

He said, “You aircrew?”  I said, “Yeah.”  “What are you, an air gunner?” sort of go[ing] to, start going at the bottom of the heap, “air gunner, bombardier, navigator?”  And I ripped my great coat open.  I said, “No, Sir, I’m a pilot.”  Three bags full.  Closed my coat, gave him a smart salute, and muttered something under my breath and left.


*Established in 1928, the Department of Pensions and National Health (DPNH) administered to the needs of Canadian veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs replaced DPNH in 1944.


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