My father was only 17 when his father, Harry Thomas Oliver, Sr., died an untimely death on Christmas Eve, 1928, just 44 years old. He died from tuberculosis, a result of being gassed in World War I while serving as an artillery sergeant in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France.
My father, Harry Thomas, Jr., was the eldest son in a family of six children, so he left school to work to help support his family. He joined the St. Catharines, Ontario, Fire Department, where he served as a driver, pump operator and firefighter until the outbreak of World War II.
He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1940, enlisting in the RCAF as an Aircraftsman Second Class, and during the next five years, rose to the rank of Flying Officer (Captain). On his first RCAF home leave, he assisted the St. Catharines’ Fire Department in responding to a fire that gutted a local warehouse in the middle of the night.
During his years with the RCAF, my Dad served as Commanding Officer, #70 Motor Transport, Dawson Creek, Alaskan Highway, and later as Transport Officer, 127 Wing, 83 Group, 2nd Tactical Unit RCAF, British Liberation Army in England, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. When Victory in Europe (VE) Day came on May 8, 1945, my father was in Germany. He was with the British Army at Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where over 70,000 died, including Anne Frank.
For his service during the war, my father was awarded the Canadian War Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp, and the France-Germany Star. With the conclusion of fighting in the European theater, my father reenlisted to fight in the Pacific. Shortly after his reenlistment, the Japanese surrendered, and he transferred to the Reserve Air Force.
Following the war, he rejoined the St. Catharines’ Fire Department. From then until his premature death, Dad served his community. He never took a single sick day, except for the births of his five children. His hard work and tireless service to the community was obviously recognized, as he was appointed Fire Inspector in 1946, Captain in 1948, Assistant Platoon Chief in 1951, and Platoon Chief in 1958. He also served as Fire Prevention Officer for eleven years. During his career he never stopped learning and working to improve himself, completing 17 different fire courses.
To me, my father was a hero his whole life, only his uniform changed.
He was taken from us too soon, but died as he lived – helping those in need. My father died at only 55 years old, in the line of duty in 1966. I was a sophomore at Cornell University; my youngest sisters were only eight and ten. My siblings, Bill, Craig (deceased), Susan, Shelley and I seek always to honor his memory. His legacy now includes seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.At the time of his death, the Mayor of St. Catharines, Robert Johnson wrote to my mother;
In the performance of his duties as Platoon Chief with the St. Catharines’ Fire Department, your husband manifested the outstanding qualities of a dedicated and conscientious fireman, and was a credit to the profession and to the department that he served so well. Harry Oliver will be sadly missed by his many friends throughout our community who respected him for his devotion to his family and our city.
My father instilled in us a sense of duty to our community and to learning. He encouraged and inspired us to always strive to be our best; you can see his influence and legacy in the ten degrees and diplomas his children share, while our spouses add another six degrees to the family.
Today one of my sisters is a primary school teacher, the other a university professor. The emphasis on higher learning has been passed down through the generations; four grandchildren hold three degrees from Cornell University, one from Harvard University, and one from Vanderbilt University, while two others are currently in college.
My sisters and I will be participating in the 29th annual International Association of Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Observance and Procession this month that honors fallen firefighters, including my Dad.
I am honored each day to be my father’s son. It is in his memory, and in the memory of the thousands of men and women like him, that American Sentinel University strives to serve the healing professions and to be a military-friendly university.
My father may have gone too soon, but his legacy of service and love of learning lives on.
– Dr. Rick Oliver, CEO of American Sentinel University