Monday, November 12, 2012

The Story of Paul's Window

By Bryce Kerschner '14 
Every year, students pass by many windows located in McCormick Hall en route to classes, events, or various activities throughout the school year. Having lived in McCormick for a year during my sophomore year at Pacific University, I remember passing by the same window on the east wing stairwell. The only feature which made this window distinct happened to be a small plaque proclaiming it as “Paul’s Window.”

Paul's Window is located in the stairwell of McCormick Hall
A sub cursory glance, which many students, including myself, are only able to provide, only reveals Paul Osterander served during World War II and lost his life returning home from a mission in Germany. 

Being the only memorial on campus dedicated to a student lost in World War II, other than the Alpha Zeta walk located behind Marsh Hall, its vagueness left me wanting to know more both about Paul and Pacific’s history with veterans. 

The plaque was dedicated in the Mac Hall on October 25, 1947 by former President Walter Giershbach. The wing was expanded to accommodate an increased enrollment at Pacific resulting from veterans returning from the war to complete their education. Paul Osterander was one of the many who were not as lucky to return, dying one month before his twenty-first birthday.

Paul was born the youngest of three children in 1924 near Whitewater, Wisconsin. His father, Clinton, was a veteran in the First World War who became a minister once he returned to the states. After being ordained in a congressional church in Omaha, Reverend Osterander moved his family out to Wisconsin, where Paul was born. 

Always the adventurous child, Paul started out as a lackluster student. While being both unenthusiastic and poor in several class categories, Paul didn’t really connect with the material until after his parents relocated to the Seattle area. 

In his junior year of high school, Paul earned his first “A” in a geometry course which sparked a higher application in the rest of his course work. His marks improved throughout his senior year and gave Paul the chance to enroll in college to study law. 

During his freshman year at Pacific, Paul was very involved with the many activities on campus ranging from the freshman mixer, rookie initiation, homecoming and the attempted burning of the Linfield bonfire. Paul also found himself on the road with the debate team, doing yearbook artwork in the basement of Marsh Hall and was an active member of Phi Beta Tau. However, he also had a deeper reflective side. 

What many may not have known was that Osterander deeply opposed the war. Despite his personal convictions and religious upbringing, Paul chose to enlist in the Army Corps reserve and was called to active duty in February of 1943. 

By the summer, Paul was a cadet in flight training at an Army airbase in the Southwest, which appealed to his adventurous side, athleticism, and love of nature. Paul graduated from advanced training as an exceptional pilot earning the coveted silver wings and commission as a Second Lieutenant. Before deployment to England Paul was chosen to fly the single-engine P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter and was assigned as a replacement pilot with the 78th Fight Group near the village of Duxford, north of London.  

In the autumn, Paul was flying missions over the continent supplying protective cover above American bomber formations striking strategic targets in Germany. 

Despite many pilots trying to aggressively run up a string of personal “victories,” Paul had an immense satisfaction in protecting the bombers and their crews and was pleased to be referred to as “angels from heaven” by the men he protected. As the missions continued and their hazard levels rose, Paul had mixed feelings about the operations which he revealed to his parents in a letter in January of 1945:  

“I think that I am near to being a pacifist. I admit that I am not a good soldier when it comes to strafing in particular. I never get the urge to…tear down to the ground and shoot everything that is German. But when I read an article about ‘Nazi War factories’ I know that if I were to come close to anything like that I would be certainly moved to do something.” 

Being only 20 years old, Paul was a flight leader and soon would become assistant operations officer of his squadron. It was his level of maturity that stood out among all of Paul’s admirable qualities and served him well in the next year. Two months shy of his 21st birthday, he was a veteran of over fifty combat missions. 

On March 31, 1946 Paul was escorting bombers to Stendal, in north-central Germany when they encountered heavy flak from enemy gunners. A quick inspection by his wingman revealed only a small hole in the tail of Paul’s plane but just to be on the safe side they set a course for Duxford. After crossing the Dutch coastline, they headed across the North Sea towards England. About 50 miles west of The Hague the engine in Paul’s plane unexpectedly caught fire and forced the pilot to bail out. As he descended towards the sea, Paul’s inflatable life raft fell away but he still managed to get out of his parachute. His wingman circled overhead but with the rough sea he only managed to keep him in sight for a few minutes after attempting to navigate the Air-Sea Rescue plane to the location of the downed pilot. Despite the many hours of searching, Paul was gone. 

Paul Osterander died just shy of his twenty-first birthday. A month after Paul’s death, Hitler committed suicide as the Russians closed in on his bunker in Berlin. A week later, the war in Europe was over. In the two years since he left Pacific to fight a war he was reluctant to enter, he had flew sixty combat missions but did it with a moral code based on respect and honor. In a letter to his parents he recorded his thoughts about the war, and ultimately his fate:
“As far as my feelings on the war are concerned, I do not like it. When I see what they are doing to Germany and the great cities, the futility of it all is the thing that hurts. When I see what a tough time the GI Joes (ground troops) are having…I have nothing to say, I am a bystander. I have no more right to live than the hundreds who have died unjustly, yet I am willing to try what others will try. If you don’t understand this just rest easy and remember that I am happy no matter what happens.”

As I paused to read the plaque adorning the window of McCormick Hall, I thought to myself how my feelings would have been different if I knew Paul’s story. A man who sacrificed an undoubtedly successful future for generations to come, even if it meant to support an act he found disdainful. But the way Paul approached the war without sacrificing his moral or ethical code spoke bold words about his maturity despite being very young and inexperienced. 

Perhaps this is the true message of Paul’s Window, not one glorifying war or those fallen but who will you be when the unexpected happens. Would you still be able to uphold your moral code? Could you still make the best of the situation? Most importantly, don’t forget about a man who exemplified a good and just person; a simple student who wrote beautiful poetry about a world free of violence and full of love. 

The same man who became a war hero because he realized without sacrificing his life towards ending the violence it soon would reign over many more innocent lives like his own. Think of Paul on Veteran’s Day this year and stop by McCormick Hall and look out through his window sometime and see life through his eyes.

Kerschner '14 is the Communication Assistant for the Office of Alumni Relations. 

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