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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Jim circled as his friend floated down in his parachute. Ostrander’s inflatable life raft came off his harness and fell away as he descended. Ostrander landed and managed to get out of his chute. “The sea was so rough that day that it would have been difficult to see a man in a dingy but…nearly impossible to see anyone with only a life jacket on,” Jim recalled. Nevertheless, he kept Ostrander in sight for several minutes as an Air-Sea Rescue plane came but he could not reach its pilot by radio to direct him to the downed pilot. After a few agonizing minutes, Ostrander could no longer be seen.

“We searched until we knew that all hope was gone,” Jim wrote later. “A man will perish in a very few minutes in that water. Rocky, Earl, myself and one other pilot went back out and searched till dark. Then we had to face the fact that Paul was gone. The squadron lost one of its best and most aggressive pilots and I had lost my flying mate and a very good friend.”

A month after Ostrander’s death, Hitler committed suicide as the Russians closed in on his bunker in Berlin. A week later, the war in Europe was over at last.

In Seattle, the Ostranders received a telegram from the War Department and a letter from the group chaplain informing them that their son was missing in action. Not long afterwards, a letter arrived from Jim Moore. It said, “I can realize what a blow it was to you when you learned of his death. His death seems tragic but his life was exemplary. That should be no small consolation. I knew Paul well enough in the short time that I was with him to respect his moral code. You know better than I what I am trying to say. You might want to know that Paul flew sixty combat missions. We lost Rocky on the next to last mission of the war; that was another blow to the squadron.”

Paul Ostrander died just shy of his twenty-first birthday. In the two years since he left Pacific to fight a war he was reluctant to enter, he had lived a lifetime. In a poignant letter to his family he recorded his thoughts on the war, his life and fate:

“As far as my feelings concerning 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 expect to come home and I will do the very best I can to get there. I am not heroic because I am not angry, yet I am willing to try what the others will try. If you don’t understand this just rest easily and remember that I am happy no matter what happens.”

Two years after the end of World War II, during homecoming week, President Walter Giersbach formally dedicated Tabitha Brown Hall, Warner Hall and a new wing of McCormick hall as part of an expansion to accommodate an increased enrollment that included many veterans who had returned from the war.

Paul’s father, Reverend Clinton Ostrander, was a guest of honor at the ceremony. On Oct. 25, 1947 he and President Giersbach dedicated the new wing in McCormick Hall to Paul, placing a bronze plaque honoring him by a window in a spacious stair landing. The plaque remains there today—the only memorial on campus to a Pacific student lost in World War II. The window faces south across the spacious lawn toward Marsh Hall, a view Paul must have enjoyed many times. The plaque reads:

Paul’s Window

In memory of Lt. Paul Ostrander, class of 1946, manager-elect of McCormick Hall, who lost his life returning from a mission over Germany, March 31, 1945. He was a superior student and the lover of everything worthwhile.