Joseph Auguste Omer Levesque: The first Canadian to fly air combat missions in the Korean War

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Sergeant Pilot Omer Levesque is helped into his parachute before a mission with No. 401 Squadron, RCAF, on July 7, 1941.

As a celebrated Canadian aviator, Joseph Auguste Omer Levesque had a storied military career. He spent time as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Second World War, then flew missions during the Korean War. Here is a short summary of his varied and interesting life.

A black-and-white image depicts four men in military uniforms posing in front of an aircraft with a man in the cockpit. The four men stand one beside the other.

The original 410 (F) Squadron Blue Devils pose for a publicity shot at RCAF Station St. Hubert on July, 14, 1949. Right wing Joseph Auguste Omer Levesque is standing, on the far right.

Levesque was born on May 23, 1922 in Mont-Joli, Quebec. Before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), he was a lieutenant in a local militia and attended the University of Ottawa. He later transferred to the RCAF as an aircraftsman second class. In 1941, after several months of training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, he graduated from Flight Training School at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. During the Second World War, Levesque flew with the RCAF and was the first British Commonwealth pilot to shoot down a German Focke-Wulf Fw-190. He was later shot down himself, and spent the rest of the war as a POW in the infamous Stalag Luft III camp.

After the war, Levesque returned to Canada. He re-enlisted with the RCAF, while completing his degree at McGill University. After his studies, Levesque joined the No. 410 “Cougar” Squadron in Quebec, where he flew the de Havilland Vampire. During his time with this squadron, he became a member of the “Blue Devils” aerobatic team, and performed airshows in North America.

On May 9, 1949, during a test to see how fast and far the de Havilland Vampire could fly, Levesque made the fastest trip between Montreal and Ottawa in 8.5 minutes.

By the start of the Korean War, Levesque had attained the rank of flight lieutenant. He arrived in Korea on December 1, 1950 with the first F-86 Sabre jet fighters. Levesque was part of the United States Air Force/RCAF exchange program and became the first Canadian to fly air combat missions over Korea.

He received the United States Air Medal, “In recognition of meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight from 17 December to 21 December 1950.” He flew 20 missions, an average of four missions per day. This award was established in 1942 for “… single acts of heroism or merit for operational activities against an armed enemy … or for sustained distinction in performance of duties involving regular and frequent participation in aerial flight.” It was usually awarded to those who flew 20 missions or more in a certain period of time. During his tour in Korea, he completed 71 operational sorties with the United States Air Force 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron before returning home to Canada in June 1951.

A black-and-white image depicts two men in military uniforms, standing next to an aircraft. Both men are in profile as they face each other. The man on the left is holding what appears to be a map.

Levesque (on the right) gets a last-minute briefing from Maj. E.C. Fletcher of the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron before a mission.

On March 31, 1951, Levesque lived to see another day by sheer luck. He was part of two squadrons of F-86 Sabre jet fighters that were tasked to protect a large squadron of Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers. These bombers were there to attack bridges on the Yalu River, in order to cut off transportation of Chinese troops and supplies into North Korea. During this escort mission, the squad leader called out enemy MiG jet fighters coming from different directions.

In order to reduce drag, weight, and to increase maneuverability, Levesque and his squadron dropped their auxiliary fuel tanks before turning towards the enemy MiGs to engage them. While he chased a MiG, it pulled into the sun to try to disappear in its glare. Luckily for Levesque, he was wearing dark sunglasses and this allowed him to keep the MiG in sight. During the chase, Levesque managed to shoot down the enemy MiG in a corkscrewing dogfight. After this engagement, he was mistaken for an enemy MiG and was almost shot down by friendly fire when he rejoined the B-29 squadron. Levesque’s luck held out again; the B-29 missed him before he waggled his plane to let the B-29 know that he was friendly.

Levesque earned the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievements while participating in aerial combat.

Levesque continued to serve with the RCAF and was assigned to various postings, in Canada and overseas. He retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1965.

He was inducted into the Quebec Air and Space Hall of Fame in 2002. Levesque passed away four years later, at the age of 86.

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Nicolas Nadeau

As a graduate of the Applied Museum Studies Program at Algonquin College, Nicolas Nadeau did his required field placement at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.  Under the supervision of the curator, Erin Gregory, Nicolas conducted research on Canadians who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Cold War.