Paul Ostrander '46: Fight for the Sky

Lt. Ostrander in front of a P-47 plane Duxford, England, 1944. (Courtesy Photo)

A minister’s son and a thoughtful pacifist who wanted to study law, Paul Ostrander probably never dreamed he would become a fighter pilot.

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A minister’s son and a thoughtful pacifist who wanted to study law, Paul Ostrander probably never dreamed he would become a fighter pilot. The irony was that he would distinguish himself by flying some of the most dangerous and daring combat missions of World War II.

Pacific University was a family tradition in the Ostrander family. Paul’s father, the Rev. Clinton Ostrander, graduated in 1915. He wrote of feeling “deeply indebted” to the University for the “people who were so generous with their friendship.” While serving in the United States Army in France in the First World War, he met a minister who hired him as an assistant at a church in the Midwest. 

After being ordained in a Congregational church in Omaha, Reverend Ostrander and family moved to Whitewater, Wisconsin, a small Midwestern town where Paul, the youngest of three children, was born in 1924.

Ostrander’s boyhood summers were spent on the water, exploring sand dunes and beaches along Lake Michigan and swimming in its “crystal clear” waters. Winters brought sledding, sleigh rides and, when a cold snap would send temperatures plummeting, ice skating on frozen lakes.

From the beginning, Ostrander had an adventurous streak. His sister Margaret recalls him making a homemade breathing apparatus with a length of garden hose to experiment with how long he could stay under water. “He gave me quite a scare,” she recalled.

Always curious, Ostrander was fascinated by the forces of nature. One summer evening as he looked skyward, the clouds took on an unusual reddish hue. Birds ceased chirping; there was unnatural silence. Suddenly he heard a rumbling in the distance and a cold blast of air struck him. A cyclone!

Frightened and excited, he ran for home as the twister whined and whipped about him. A hundred-foot oak fell, ripping the electric wires off his house. He made a “mad dash” for the basement shelter, slamming the door shut. A moment later another huge oak crashed across the sidewalk where he had just been.

Ostrander’s adventures were a counterpoint to a dismal academic record.  An unenthusiastic student and poor speller, he earned the ire of a grade school teacher by fighting with her pet pupil. By the time he was in seventh grade he had changed schools twice. When the family relocated to Seattle in his sophomore year, he was still a poor performer.

Then, in his junior year, Ostrander took a geometry course. Something in the complex relationships of lines and angles made sense and to his surprise he earned his first “A.” “I decided it was possible to get good grades,” he recalled, and began to apply himself to other subjects.

By his senior year, his grades had improved enough to consider college–and a career. “I had an opportunity to take a law courses…it turned out to be my favorite subject and from then on my college course was fairly well decided.” A meeting with President Walter Giersbach, then touring the Northwest, decided him on Pacific.

Entering in the fall of 1941, Ostrander wrote of enjoying “the freshman mixer, the rook initiation, the homecoming bon-fire, the attempted burning of the Linfield bon-fire and, of course, all the experiences that can happen while living in a boy’s dormitory.” One of those experiences, recalls classmate Wayne Myers, occurred when Ostrander walked up and down the stairway railing in the entrance to Mac Hall–barefoot!

Delilah Wheeler Judy, a classmate and friend, remembers Ostrander as a tall, good-looking guy who loved to dance to big band music. He was “friendly, upbeat, interested in other’s lives.”