Americans Died in WWII While Volunteering for the Royal Canadian Air Force; Finally Getting Recognition and Peace

Richard Fuller Patterson, 26 years old, was one of 9,000 Americans who volunteered to fight with Canada during WWII.
Richard Fuller Patterson, 26 years old, was one of 9,000 Americans who volunteered to fight with Canada during WWII.

Richard Fuller Patterson was 26 years old when he was shot down over Belgium 72 years ago. He was piloting the Spitfire in 1941 and was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The young pilot graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, and died alone somewhere in Belgium, metronews reports.

Patterson’s family was from Richmond, Virginia and the founders of the popular brand of tobacco, Lucky Strike, especially during WWII. Patterson was set to inherit the company, he was seen as the family’s golden boy.

Patterson was also antsy when it came to fighting the Germans. He was among the other 840 American’s who couldn’t wait for America to join the war, so they joined and trained in Canada. They fought along side Canadians, and they died with them as well, unfortunately.

As noble as the Americans were for wanting to battle against Hitler’s forces, their home (America) forgot those brave men.

Why?

The United States did not take to kindly to the men going to join the Canadians. The US even notified the men who were defecting to Canada that they may not be able to come back to America. This did not stop the men. When America finally decided to join the war on December 7, 1941, which marked the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, 9,000 Americans had already joined the Canadian Air Force.

70 years later, Patterson and the other Americans who died while members of the RCAF, they are finally getting their due respects. This is their first ever remembrance, which is taking place in Richmond, Virginia.

A monument was unveiled at the Virginia War Memorial. The monument was to honor the 16 Virginians who volunteered to fight with Canadians. The memorial has two seals the Virginia state insignia and the Royal Canadian Air Force crest. These emblems were cast from antique aluminum that came from a Canadian bomber plane that was shot down over Europe.

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“We’re tremendously proud to finally be remembering these Americans who put everything on the line, including the risk of renouncing their U.S. citizenship, to fight with Canada,” said Jeb Hockman, a spokesman for the Virginia War Memorial, told Metronews.

“It certainly isn’t common knowledge to Americans. And I don’t think many Canadians are aware of it, either. But the families of these men remember. And now we do, too.”

A member of Canada’s Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alta., Karl Kjarsgaard,  was credited for his many years of research. He alone is responsible for putting together an extensive database of the Americans who volunteered for the RCAF. With the help of Canadian, British, and American war records, he was able to identify more than 840 Americans who were killed while fighting  under Canadian colors. As he accumulated names, he began looking for living relatives for the volunteers.

Monroe Nash of Virginia Beach holds a photo of his brother Charlie, a Portsmouth native who died in a training accident in 1942 while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.
Monroe Nash of Virginia Beach holds a photo of his brother Charlie, a Portsmouth native who died in a training accident in 1942 while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.

“These men are my heroes — the Canadian bomber crews who only had one chance in four of finishing a combat tour without being killed,” Kjarsgaard told Torstar News Service.

“And during my 20 years of research into the 16,000 Canadians killed in the RCAF during World War II, I started to notice, ‘Hey, there are a lot of Americans here.’ . . . It was a revelation to me. And we’re still finding more. It’s the fog of war — things get lost. But now at least we know the magnitude of something we’ve missed in our history.

The young Americans made their way to Toronto for processing at a RCAF induction center at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. Then the volunteers were sent to Union Station where they were separated to begin their training with either bombers or a gun squadron. Some of the men were sent to Alberta while the rest stayed in Ontario. Their final destination was to be England, where they would take the places of British soldiers who were already killed during battle.

Patterson had a relative present at the memorial. 87 year old Henry Gregory who was also a WWII veteran remembers his cousin well.

“Fuller was a bit older than me. I was still a teenager. But I remember him vividly. He was a character, just full of life and energy, very athletic, very involved. And when he went off to Canada, that was the last we saw of him,” Gregory told Torstar News Service.

“Then Pearl Harbor happened. And then, a few days later, we got word that Fuller had been killed the same day. Our family was devastated. But there was no funeral, his body never came back from Europe. And all these years, the story was lost. So we’re very grateful that these memories are being marked today.”

It is Kjarsgaard’s hope that the Virginia memorial will be the beginning of more states holding services for the Americans who died while fighting with Canada.

“Hardly anybody in Canada knows about them, hardly any Americans know about them. These men just fell through the cracks,” said Kjarsgaard.

“It is easy in this day and age for Canadians to operate on the assumption that freedom is automatic and nobody paid. Somebody did pay — including more young Americans than anyone previously realized.”