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Wednesday April 27, 2011

War hero helped displaced Ukrainians

Saskatoon-born flying ace was the first person of Ukrainian descent to become a general in the Canadian Forces

Special to The Globe and Mail

Continued from Page 1

Another horror story he told with great composure was a close call on a flying mission over Burma's Imphal Valley. Caught in a violent downdraft, his Dakota DC-3 was plunging at a stomach-churning rate of 3,000 feet per minute.

"The aircraft tumbled like a leaf in a high wind," Romanow recalled in his interview. "I know at one point we were upside down because we were hanging in our seat harnesses. When we dropped below [the] 3,000-foot level, still in cloud, I was certain that we would not survive. We were below the level of the hilltops. There was nothing left to do but pray.

"Suddenly, we were spit out of the bottom of the cloud at 2,000 feet over the Chindwin River Valley. I regained control of the aircraft and followed the winding river eastward towards the tunnel formed by the hills on either side and the cloud above. It led us out of the hills into the plains country. We had survived. It was the most helpless, frightening experience of my life."

For a year at war's end, Romanow joined other Ukrainian-Canadian servicemen in an effort financed by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now the Ukrainian Canadian Congress) to locate displaced Ukrainians in several zones newly occupied by the Allies.

"Things were rather chaotic," he recalled of the time. "That permitted things to be done, which in a more structured period would not have been possible." He did not elaborate.

The most immediate concern was physical survival, amid conditions Romanow found "inhumane" (he could not spend more than five hours in any camp). The long-term goal for displaced persons was to avoid a lifetime of slave labour.

According to Luciuk, many Ukrainians deemed to be Soviet citizens were obliged to return home.

"There were millions of them, mostly slave labourers who had been press-ganged into the service of the Third Reich during the war. Many refused to return to the Soviet Union but, under the terms of the Yalta Agreement, they were expected to and the western Allies began the process of forcible repatriation."

The Soviets were promising an uneventful journey home, but would often lock the transporting boxcars and route the returning trains to Siberia, or just slaughter the returnees.

With the Allies' approval, Romanow and the other Canadians entered the camps and, after building trust, gathered lists of names to publish in Ukrainian-Canadian newspapers. Readers could then identify relatives and sponsor their immigration to Canada. "Truth be told," conceded the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Ottawa, "many of the claims of relatedness were rather tenuous."

Between 35,000 and 40,000 displaced Ukrainians came to Canada from the end of the war into the early 1950s, Luciuk said.

Following his work in the camps, Romanow entered the University of Saskatchewan and graduated in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He rejoined the RCAF, which sent him to England to complete a master's in aeronautical engineering.

From there, he began a torrent of activity, including work on the doomed Avro Arrow, the supersonic jet that was scuttled by the federal government. He was the senior Canadian representative at the U.S. Bomarc missile program, and was the officer responsible for the final installation phase and operation of Canada's first nuclear missile site in North Bay, Ont.

Posted to the National Defence College in Kingston, he attained the rank of Brigadier-General in 1971. From there, he spent three years in West Germany helping NATO reorganize its air command structure.

In 1974, he was awarded the Commander in the Order of Military Merit and the Canadian Forces Decoration.

Two years later, he retired as director general of Organization and Manpower at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa and became president of the Machinery and Equipment Manufacturers' Association of Canada.

He wrote six books on family history and a personal memoir, Just Joe.

In 1996, Romanow returned to Burma as part of a Canadian delegation that attended the interment ceremony of six of his wartime buddies whose C-47 Dakota crashed in the jungle in June, 1945, and went undiscovered for 45 years. Said his daughter Pauline, "He felt it was an honour to be able to honour them."

Joseph Romanow was predeceased by his wife, Josephine Sawchuk. They had four children: Mary, a retired air force lieutenant colonel; Gregory, a retired navy captain, John and Paula, and seven grandchildren. He also leaves brothers Walter and Morris. Roy Romanow, Saskatchewan's former premier, was a nephew.

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