Toivo Pippo Oral History

Dublin Core


Toivo Pippo Oral History


Hanford Atomic Products Operation
Richland, WA


Part of the CREHST 2003 Oral History public programming. Interviews filmed in front of a live audience.




Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at




RG2D_4A / T.2010.052.06

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Toivo Pippo


LENGTH: 23 minutes

TOIVO: I am from Astoria, OR. My first name is Toivo. There is pure Finnish unadulterated blood in there. There is no mixture of any kind. When I came to Astoria I got a scholarship to the University of Oregon for basketball. My sophomore year there our squad played Ohio State for NCAA Championship. We were looking to win that game. There were five of us on that squad from Astoria, all Finns. My next year at school the Draft came along. If I remember correctly, Washington D. C. had a large bowl full of numbers, just pieces of paper. They were going to start drafting guys, of course, at that time we did not have any idea of what was happening. So, all of a sudden on the radio they were talking about these numbers, if your number was called you were going to be drafted. The only thing I ever won was that draft. I got the first number, which was 158. I have never won anything else…. ever. I am sorry that I won that time. That did not turn out so hot. That was the end of that basketball game.

INTERVIEWER: Then I understand that you had to go to training. To pilot training. Can you tell us a little about that?

TOIVO: This was peacetime and I was drafted out of Astoria. Everything was disorganized; the draft people, the rules, and the regulations. So, when I went to Astoria to be drafted, I asked for a deferment. This was in the middle of the basketball season. They did not understand that, nobody understood that. That I should be able to finish school, no…. they did not understand that. So I was drafted and sent to Portland, OR and got in a line of four that stretched out to the street. We did not know what the lines were for. I was part way into the building and there was an enlisted man at a desk and he said, “Fellow do you know where you are going?” and I said “I think I am going into the Army”. He then looked at me and said “Do you known where you are going if you stay in that line?” I said “No”. He said “You are going to be in the tanks in Texas next week”. He said, “Do you want to go there?” I said, “No”. If you go over to the next line over, you go in that line you are going to windup in the Louisiana swamps. He said “They have mosquitoes
down there.” I said “I do not want to go there.” The third line come to find out was up in the snow all that stuff. I did not want to do that. The last line you could sign-up for a two year hitch, but this was regular Army at that time. Air force would not separate there, this was just regular Army. I was sent to Moffat Field which is on Bay Shore from San Fran Cisco, south a little ways. There is a large airfield there by the name of Moffat Field. I think it is still there. Upon arriving there we were the first group of draftees to come to this place. Here you were trained left-right, left-right, canes and all that good stuff. When we got there, they had strings of sidewall tents, with wooden sides and a canvas top. My tent was the second one from the beginning, the first tent. The next morning we were out there, they had a can tied to a nail and you had to go around and pickup cigarette butts, “Police the area” they call it. Next to us was a tall skinny guy, he looked familiar to me, but he was in G.I’s underwear, which was huge and baggy, kind of funny looking. I could not place him right away. I found out a short time later. This was “Jimmy Stewart” he was living next to me. He was living with three enlisted people. This was peacetime, and these guys were tough characters……man, I would not want to tell you the things that they did to the ninth or whatever. I was appointed the coach; the guy wanted me to be the coach of the base basketball team. We started to practice, and we had very good players from around the United States. We played our first game, and he was at the first game. After the game I went to the room where we pickup our mail. They have the alphabetical boxes. Well, Piippo was alphabetically close to his name. So, when I was there picking up my mail, he would show up and we struck up a speaking relationship, kind of a friendship. He would always say, “Nice game”. He would make a friendly comment. He came to all our games, and he was a real good moral character. He trained us to march. Everyday we went out and marched, of course, we were civilians. He had a high voice. So, we would march around for a little while and pretty soon we were all out of step, and bumping one another. He would turn around and look. He would get exercised, and his voice would go up higher, and higher. Then we would start all over and still get mixed up. Finally, he would just literally scream. Boy, he could put it way up there. We weren’t laughing at him, we weren’t laughing at the marching, and we were laughing at him, because he got so exercised. A short time later he was over that. Boy…he taught us, the left-rights and all that stuff. He came to all our basketball games. At that time, they had what was called a “Dayroom” as large as this here. In there are magazines, Colliers and Life, and you could play pool. He would be in there on Saturday mornings sitting by himself in a chair, and very quite. People then would go to him, and talk to him. He would hardly talk to any body. Being that I was acquainted with him, I got the courage to sit down with him in the beginning. We started to chat and I got to know him pretty well. One morning, he was writing a thing out on some paper. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I am going to be on KGO tonight at 6 o’clock.” He’s going to sell War Bonds and he’s going to making a speech. I looked at him and thought gee this guy never talks. How’s he going to make a speech? Many of us turned the radio on, and he came on he said “My, my, name is James Stewart. I am a lonely Corporal in the Army. I am not an important person.” He was very impressive, really impressive. So, when we came back the next morning we went into the “Dayroom.” All these people in the “Dayroom “stood-up and clapped for him. They thought that was a big deal. A short-time later I went to the library, a big base library. He was in there studying. I went up and asked him “What are you doing?” He said “I’m taking a correspondence course to get a commission from the Air Force from the Army.” Come to find out he was a graduate of Penn, I think. He really studied, he was a student, so we chatted for awhile, all of sudden he told me “Well I passed it and tomorrow I’m leaving to go to the Air Force”. There were guys like me around who had came out of college, and we could qualify that. We followed him right into the Air Force. Like sheep going over a hurdle. I did not know a thing about airplanes, anything never touched one. Why you going into the Air Force? Well, Stewart’s going.

INTERVIEWER: So did you continue to serve with Jimmy Stewart and go through the training?

TOIVO: Uh, Can I tell one more story?


TOIVO: The last training exercise we had on marching; this was in a valley near Stanford University. There were hillsides up there, we were suppose to go up that hill, marching on a dirt road, an airplane was suppose to come by and he is suppose to holler “Hit the ditch”, we are suppose to jump under whatever was there. They had issued us with uniforms that had with huge pockets (here). All of a sudden he hollered “Hit the ditch”, and we went hit our belly on the ditch. I looked up and right in front of my face was a bunch of a huge bunch of grapes. We all looked around there, and there were grapes everywhere. We were in the middle of a winery vineyard with grapes in it. When the airplane was gone he hollered “Fall in”. We went out there and he looked at this company and everybody had pockets full of grapes. His voice went up a couple of octaves. He settled down, and we went back to the base. There was a “One Star” General’s car waiting for him. I guess they gave him the word, two thousand dollars worth of grapes disappeared out of the orchard. Well, he wound up in England as I did. We were 10 air miles apart. I think he flew 17 missions, which was not all that many, but he was doing. A very patriotic fellow.

INTERVIEWER: Who (Meant to say “What”) is the average number of missions that a pilot would fly any idea?

TOIVO: Well, it doesn’t work out that way. I was there early in the air war. London was still being bombed, and it was a mess down there. You started to fly in combat, and there across the channel German fighters were waiting for you. We never had daytime escort there, and after we made it across the channel
we made our way to a target. This is a long story. He flew 17 of those things, and I flew 67. The way that works out is that…they said “Twenty and you get to go home”, well when you got 18 they extended that number. When you got the next number they extended that number. Some of those people that were flying, well they were not warriors. Guys that could function under military conditions up in the airplane. Many of them got out for that reason, they just couldn’t. They were dangerous in there, and others found ways to try to get out. The point was, if you were reasonably functioning warrior, so to speak; they wanted to keep you in so they would extend you five; because to replace you, and replace that crew would take a lot of training. Going through the process of finding people that could function under those battle conditions. So, there was not a set, they publicized that, but it really did not work out that way.

INTERVIEWER: Can you describe the plane? How many in the crew, and what their roles were?

TOIVO: This was a B-26 a multi-engine bomber. Made by “Martin Company”. Last week on the tube was an hour long program about the B-26 and what went on, most of the things that went on. So, it was the first airplane that came out with a tri-cycle landing gear, wheels up front, and wheels on the side. It had four bladed props the first one and it also had a hub in front of the propellers that had a break an electrical break inside there. This system controlled the pitch angle of your propeller; it was automatic so if you needed more power it would take a bigger bite then. It could reduce itself to eighteen degrees the blade, but the way it turned out the brake failed often; then the propellers went flat and you could hear them, wind-up and POW. There were eight people on board; there was a bombardier up front; two pilots; an engineer with a double, double-double, fifty caliber machine guns; two waist gunners; and there was a turf in the far back. If you were flying a lead mission (how to get) there was another person on board.

INTERVIEWER: Did you frequently fly the lead position?

TOIVO: Rarely. I was what you call a “bomb jockey.” That meant that you could function in the Air Force, which I didn’t enjoy at all. I thought that was a bummer, before that word ever came around. I was a “bomb jockey” and I just took bombs over there and dropped them and back. That kind of thing.

INTERVIEWER: At any time during your missions, in later years, did they ask, did they add fighter cover for you?

TOIVO: Good question. I had great hostility toward this part of war efforts. When we went there we were young kids; eighteen and nineteen. When we started to fly there they sent the first twelve missions across the channel to a place called “Emodin Electrical” place and none of those planes came back that afternoon. I thought I must be a lousy pilot because I didn’t get to go. Afterwards I said, “Boy, I lucked out of that one”. Twelve more went out the next day and they never came back. So they increased the altitude to medium altitude fifteen, sixteen, or eighteen pounds. Over there is a bomber command, and here is your air field. The bomber commands there are high ranking people who make up the missions where you are going and the whole bag. They call up at night to your airfield and give you all that information. You do as they ordered you to do. These people never had never got out of that desk. I don’t know I think, because we did things that we thought was completely senseless. Flying in the air, people getting killed. I often wonder, I wonder today. Here I am a dinosaur and flew a lot of missions. Those guys who made that up I wonder if they did anything besides pushing a pencil. I still ache about that considerably.

INTERVIEWER: Is there, uh I’ve heard there was a nickname for the B-26 squadrons. They called it……

TOIVO: Many, they were all bad.

INTERVIEWER: But, you talked about the first twenty-four that went over and did not come back, and eventually call the B-26 “The Widow Maker”.

TOIVO: No, No, that was a……. I happened to be in the first B-26’s that were sent out to “McNeal Field” in Tampa. We were single engine students that just graduated. We were very embroiled pilots. Man….and so here they had this B-26 airplane….refresh you question again.

INTERVIEWER: Did they call the B-26 the “Widow Maker”? Because of these first…..

TOIVO: Yes. I will go back to that. That airplane crashed so often that there was a daily crash of a B-26. You could be on the airfield and you heard the break was failing, and the propellers were like this. They didn’t bite anything so the thing went down. Daily these things went down. I think 150 of those airplanes were lifting in Tampa Bay, and uh “McNeal Field” quite a horrendous number. There were other defects that were never taken care of before the airplane was released to fly. All kinds of, I could go in a long story about the defects that were never ….so here these young kids came over there and they never had …and they were flying a plane that was untested that killed people daily. What else?

INTERVIEWER: Oh I’m sorry I was going to ask….we have three minutes left with Mr. Piippo

UNKNOWN: You have two and one half minutes left now, Joyce.

JOYCE: Would you mind if any of these teachers here ask you a question?

TOIVO: Do it.

JOYCE: Anyone have a question for Mr. Piippo?

UNKNOWN: I do. Hear about that in NCAA championship.

TOIVO: That the best part.

UNKNOWN: I bet your not hostel about that at all.

TOIVO: No, No not at all. Played Ohio State, the Pacific Coast was divided into a “Northern” and “Southern” division those champions played each other. They then were west of the Mississippi and played Ohio State, in Evansville. That was good stuff. I was a sophomore, and I was not a big contributor to that effort. Mostly I think that I was a spectator.

UNKNOWN: How many people would they tend to gain in those years?

TOIVO: The University of Oregon about eight or nine thousand. They still do the same thing. A lot of people.

UNKNOWN: Mr. Piippo when you got back from the war, how old was you?

TOIVO: I was 24. That is not the important part, when I came back I was all screwed-up. I was grounded I was a wreck. They called it “Battle Fatigue” at that time. Today they have “Post War Trauma”, I think’ and they talk about that. I have permanent “Post War Trauma”. It is suppose to be with you forever. It changes your personality and whatever. I went to two different hospitals for treatment for psycho stuff. They wanted to shot me full of penathoal. Make you go…bah, bah, bah. I refused, my wife said, “You should of, you should of”. She also says “It’s not too late”.

UNKNOWN: Mr. Piippo what would you like us to convey to young people today, uh something to remember World War II for.

JOYCE: Did you hear the question?

TOIVO: Good question. My point of view; we have a certain demeanor or quality I think that is kind of indestructible, and all that stuff. When you get into combat the shell that is shot is about that tall it was an 8mm shell, and it burst in a ball so to speak-a lethal a hundred yards in every direction. Shrapnel….metal flying through the air. When you are in your airplane psychologically you want to have your feet on the ground. Really. The first time your flying and one of these things explodes beside you; you’re sitting there and you can’t do a thing.

JOYCE: I am sorry you guys, I am going to have to interrupt.





CREHST Museum, “Toivo Pippo Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 21, 2024,