What do you get for a Second World War Royal Canadian Air Force veteran on his 100th birthday?
“You give him lots of hugs and kisses,” said Doreen Rich, daughter of flying officer Willard Kathan, who turned 100 on April 25.
“He’s had his life, he has everything he needs. You don’t get a man who turns 100 much except lots of hugs and kisses.”
Kathan served during the war with 428 Squadron in the United Kingdom. He flew 16 to 20 combat missions during the war as a flight engineer on an Avro Lancaster named Sugar’s Blues.
For long hours, he listened intently to the roar of the engines, trying to find any signs of trouble. His job was to ensure the engines performed during the missions he was on.
Now, 69 years after the war, he lives at the College Side Gardens in Red Deer.
His family said he never talked much about his service.
“He says it’s something he went and did,” said Doreen Rich. “Because that was the thing to do. He doesn’t talk about it at all, he never has and he never will.”
But he left behind a legacy of service as Doreen, her husband Jim, her brother and sister-in-law, her daughter and her son, Cmdr. Darren Rich, all served to some extent in the Canadian military.
Darren Rich is based in Colorado Springs, Colo., as a liaison officer for the Canadian Joint Operations. He called his grandfather a role model.
“I’m from a military background, it’s just something I grew up around as a kid,” said Darren Rich.
“He was a mentor, amongst other people as well.”
Though the family didn’t know too much about their patriarch’s service, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force went to the archives and dug up some of his history and service records, including the number of missions he went on.
Doreen Rich served in the military for a year before she married her husband, also a serviceman.
She stepped away from her service to raise her family.
Darren Rich said his grandfather can’t hear much anymore, a combination of having a wartime job of listening to very loud engines, followed by a life of working in seed-cleaning plants when hearing protection wasn’t much of a concern.
Willard Kathan married Olive, a war bride, in 1947 and they came to Alberta. He lived all over Alberta, but moved to Central Alberta to be closer to his family as Jim was last stationed and retired from the RCAF in Penhold.
Doreen and her brother Terry Kathan organized the birthday party that took place at the Innisfail Legion last month, inviting family from all over. Doreen said it was a nice atmosphere, to have family and friends gathered for a celebration because at Willard’s age, people mostly gather for funerals.
Birthday congratulations were sent from Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, RCAF commander. This was framed by Terry Kathan and given to Willard Kathan.
“He was surprised, he had no idea this was happening,” said Darren Rich.