Aviator to aviator: Visit with veteran ties RCAF history together

News Article / January 22, 2020

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By Captain Matt Zalot

On January 7, 2020, 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron leadership from 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, visited a living legend in the long-range patrol community.

Flight Lieutenant (retired) Jim McRae, formerly of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) No. 162 Squadron, is 102 years old and living at the Veterans Place in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. He warmly greeted 404 Squadron commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Angie Thomas, Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Freeman, and training enhancement officer (and former Yarmouth resident) Captain Robert Albert, who initiated the visit.

Mr. McRae is more than a long-lived veteran who happened to fall in love with Atlantic Canada and retire in that part of the world. His war record speaks for itself, with harrowing moments of heroism, danger and sacrifice. For a centenarian, he is full of surprises, showing a PowerPoint presentation of his service in the RCAF, replete with pictures of colleagues, aircraft, and scenic vistas of the places he visited. He also showed off his very impressive rack of wartime medals, which includes the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other honours.

Mr. McRae, as a member of the storied 162 Squadron, had many successes during the war. But he lost a brother over Hanover, Germany, and almost lost his own life after a German U-boat attack left him and his crewmates adrift in the North Atlantic. Tragically, although the attack on the submarine was successful, he lost three squadron mates who succumbed to the hypothermic conditions before they could be rescued by Allied forces. Mr. McRae had no lingering physical injuries, but such a dramatic event left an indelible mark in his memory of that era and the cost involved.

The 404 Squadron personnel fortunate enough to be welcomed into Mr. McRae’s circle learned much about the commonalities that unite all aviators, regardless of what aircraft they flew or when they flew it. To show their respect for his contribution to that community, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas presented Mr. McRae with a signed photo of a CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, and Chief Warrant Officer Freeman presented him with a 404 Squadron coin.

While these items are tokens that fail to capture the scale of the conflict Mr. McRae participated in or the magnitude of a veteran’s sacrifice, they do communicate the respect the RCAF has for those who came before today’s personnel.

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