Arnold John (AJ) Bauer: Fighter pilot. Veteran. Husband. Father. Born Dec. 13, 1924, in Morse, Sask.; died Feb. 1, 2018, in Hamilton, of a stroke; aged 93.
AJ Bauer was first and foremost a military man, by that I mean an RCAF pilot. So enchanted was he by all things airborne that 90 per cent of the home movies he shot did not feature his children or wife but small, black specks (always in formation) moving through a large, blue sky. He became fascinated by flying at the age of 9 in Desboro, Ont., after watching 24 seaplanes fly overhead on their way to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. He joined the RCAF in 1943.
In 1945, he met Bette, an RCAF-WD, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, when she shot his course photo. With the war over, they were released from the military, married and began raising three daughters. In 1948, AJ re-enlisted, happily returning to the cockpit. From the 1950s to late 1970s, AJ and Bette moved the family between Canada and NATO bases in Germany and France.
His was a charmed life, but not an untested one. In December, 1954, AJ bailed out of a burning F86 Sabre fighter jet, falling head first with his legs tangled in the parachute lines. He landed upside down in a pine tree. The following night he attended a dance on base with Bette, his dancing none the worse for his bail-out, Bette later reported.
As a base commander in New Brunswick and deputy commander in Germany, AJ’s penchant for order and routine served him well. In 1973, Prince Philip presented colours to three squadrons in Baden, culminating in a 36-plane flypast. Each detail was rigorously rehearsed and everything proceeded flawlessly. AJ could never resist sharing his love for flight no matter who stopped by for photo ops on the tarmac; he’d suit up everyone from Canadian defence ministers to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
AJ, the family man, was definitely a creature of habit and never too shy to remind us of those habits. He introduced “new regimes” frequently to the household, always followed by his detailed description, our minimal discussion and his immediate implementation. When we lived overseas, he gave each of his daughters her first piece of monogrammed luggage: a 15-inch by 19-inch fabric parachute bag. Into each bag an entire wardrobe was stuffed for travel across Europe in wrinkled fashion. That AJ’s daughters – and his wife – complied with this rule for years is certainly a testament to his powers of persuasion.
Even in retirement, AJ stayed connected to flying. He served as vice-president and president of the RCAF Association; he supported the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum; and helped considerably in the restoration of First World War ace Billy Bishop’s home in Owen Sound, Ont.
Amid any trying times, AJ’s default response was always, “a hundred years from now, it won’t matter.” Perspective is everything and yet, I’d still like to believe that even a hundred years from now, my father’s life and influence will remain consequential.
Nancy Blair is one of AJ’s daughters.
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