• Jaakko K Estola,
    Helsinki, FinlandMORE...

    I was born in Finland after the Civil war, in a time of great deprivation, on December 8, 1918, just outside of Helsinki. My father ran a shop. My two sisters were tasked with raising me.

    Germany began to display its power in 1939, when it attacked Poland. Things seemed critical. I was told to make sure I was too skinny and too small to join the army. I didn't even show up to the calls. But when the war with Russia began, all of my friends were drafted. Because of this, I then felt the need to join. I was rejected, but later proved myself to be fit enough in 1940. Up until the last minute, everyone was saying there wouldn't be a war. Then it came. I can still remember the patriotic feeling that comes over you when you have to defend your country. I felt that I had to do something. I couldn't remain there on the home front. I had to believe that Germany was strong enough to defeat the Soviet Union.

    I was sent to a small town, where the army had converted a school into a training camp. I went through ammunition and weaponry training, but at the school we didn't have any real weapons so we would chop wood and train with pretend ones. It was very poor training.

    Anyway, I moved up in the army and the following year I entered the war. I was stationed at the Finnish coast for two months. There were only two particularly exciting incidents that happened there. During one, we had to go through Russian territory and on the way back we took a break and found ourselves trapped in a crossfire between the two sides.

    Another time, some of us took our bikes for a ride to the front lines, south along the coast. We turned back after coming across some of our own troops. We were coming back along the same route and passed a pile of pine tree needles. These were usually set to mark a salute or to signify danger. We continued on until someone yelled to us that the road was mined. I could have been blown so high I would've seen the church towers of Leningrad.

    In August, we were ordered to attack. By then the Russians had retreated to the old borders, where they had taken their positions and were ready. But as our tanks reached the river crossing, their soldiers began to retreat. This was a good feeling.

    It was mostly peaceful on the southern front. Every so often Russian planes would fly over and harass us. It was very sandy there and we decided to go up on a dune and shoot down the next plane that flew over. When one got closer, we aimed our rifles. But it attacked us at the same time. We buried ourselves in the sand, attempting to hide. It was hard to see and the sand blew everywhere. A bomb fell several meters from where we were and a massive wall of sand washed over us. We were covered and it was very hot from the blast.

    Another time, in 1942, five or six of us were walking. Something exploded beside us. Some kind of a silent bomb. I felt small stings in my back. Like children had been shooting me with pellet guns. The injury wasn't life threatening and they removed the shrapnel. It left a scar, it's like a tattoo memory of the war.

    Toward the end of January in 1943, we formed a new brigade and traveled 700km into the Russian territory by train. These were different circumstances. It was -20, -30 degrees Celsius. After only three days of fighting we lost seven hundred men to the weather. The next month, we were attacked at night. There was a full moon out and we were lying on the ground beneath enemy fire. I was staring at the moon and asking for help. But the moon was spiteful. I'm sure the moon didn't understand why we were there. This was supposed to be revenge for the Winter War. I assume the moon wanted to kill us, to let us freeze in the ice.

    It turned out the base was very restless and we were in constant conflict. The Russians tried to take prisoners almost every night. There was lots of trouble with our housing. Cases of lice, lots of rats, water damage. But when summer came, we enjoyed the warm and sunny days. We listened to military radio, and sometimes they played requests. They played one of our songs.

    On the morning of January 16, 1943, I was on my way to train at the base camp. This was after a heavy snow. I walked up to the barrier around the base and I was shot from a hundred meters out, where the enemy line was. I felt a wetness on my back. I thought I'd been shot from behind. I fell with blood in my mouth, certain I'd been shot through the lung. But it turned out I was shot in the neck. Another bullet had gone by my spine and broken some of my ribs. Chips from the bones tore a large hole in my back. I received treatment over six months and was deemed fit to serve again, but they sent me back to Finland and I experienced the Soviet bombing of Helsinki in February of 1944. But I don't feel comfortable talking about that.

    The rest of the time I served was peaceful and I was glad to give up my uniform and reenter civilian life. The life of a young man was still in front of me. Still, after the war ended, I felt hollow. I wondered if this was finally peace. But because I soon turned my focus to studying, I didn't have many thoughts about global issues. I didn't think about anything but rebuilding our country. I wasn't happy about the defeat but I also wasn't sad about it. Though there wasn't much food, I was glad to be alive and healthy and surviving. That's the term I would use: surviving. Because Finland hadn't been invaded. The outcome was okay, considering how large our enemy had been. And I was in a hurry to get to university. When I considered what courses to take, there were two boys that suggested I study agriculture. It was a strange idea to me because I wasn't from a farm. I started to study it and it was very close to nature and I found joy in that.

    It was 1948 when I graduated. I worked at a dairy farm. I worked in a mill where they harvested feed for animals. It was 1956 when I got a job for a large company. There I became chief of a department in charge of processing animal feeds and manures. I developed supplements to improve the quality of animal feed.

    Now I am content, happy. Family always comes first. My children and grandchildren always call to see how I am. Soldiers have a saying, "No one is left behind." This is a saying in my family as well. I get to watch them all grow. The peace I've found in life is very important. I am not alone.

  • Johannes Teravainen ,
    Helsinki, FinlandMORE...

    I was born on June 30, 1923. My father worked as a machine operator in the biggest paper mill in Finland. My mother was Polish and she went to an art school in Paris. She was very good at drawing and she used to design evening gowns at a company in Paris. We had a big house in Enso, which was Finland at that time and later became part of the lost territory; the Russians renamed it to Svyatogorsk later. I was the youngest among my four siblings. We used to spend our summer vacations in a big summer villa that was located near the beach in Carolina. My mother wanted me to become a Catholic priest, but it didn't happen. I used to be sick during the times of school, so I had to stop studying. I started going with my father to the factory to learn work and eventually ended up with working for about 40 years in the same factory.

    My oldest brother joined the air force as a volunteer when he was only 18 years old. There was a pilot who served with my brother, and he was not permitted to fly the aircraft as he had been doing some scary stunts with his plane. Once, my brother was in a plane with him and as soon as they got seated he performed some dangerous stunts. And the plane started going up and down and eventually hit the ground, as a result of which everybody died including my brother. I was four years old when my brother died.

    During the World War II, the State was recruiting soldiers every now and then because of the continuous need of more soldiers for the war. However, I got delayed at first because of being underweight to participate in the fighting. I was 185cm tall but weighed only 58 kilograms. So I got back to work, but I got recruited in the summer of 1943. I was still too skinny, but the doctor cleared me as they needed more people for the war. I spent three months in the basic military training at Lappeenranta, Finland.

    During the training, the captain asked for six volunteers and I raised my hand along with five other volunteers. The next morning the captain took us to Vyborg and showed us six beautiful horses. He asked each of us to ride a horse from Vyborg to Lappeenranta, which was about 60 kilometers away. We had been given orders not to get off the horse under any circumstances as there were land mines covering the entire route. The captain also asked us to manage our bathroom needs while sitting on the horse. It was a horrible experience for me as I had no knowledge of riding horses and my buttocks were on fire when I reached the military camp. After the completion of training, we were taken to the battlefield in Sortavala by train, and it was awful! The noise and the scenes at the frontline were very disturbing.

    We were six young boys who were divided into different groups and I was sharing a military camp with the captain who was very nice to the soldiers. The enemy was about 150 meters away and we could smell the cigarettes they were smoking on their side. It seemed that the enemy used to come even closer at night as we had been checking with our binoculars. We also had the traditional alarm system made with a wire and a bell to protect our side if we spotted someone from the enemy on our territory.

    In 1943, on Christmas Eve, it was very quiet outside and some of the soldiers decided to stand on the roof of the military camp. We were about six soldiers, including the captain, who decided to go on the roof and sing a song. We sang "God is my castle," and I didn't hear a single shot when we were singing this song. However, when we were coming down the roof the enemy started throwing grenades towards us, which meant that obviously they didn't approve of our singing!

    One night that winter all of the soldiers including myself were so tired that we decided to rest for a while in a forest. We made a bonfire and slept around it. But suddenly I woke up and saw my fellow soldiers shaking me and saying, "Johannes your leg is on fire." I burnt my whole right leg. My fellow soldiers took me to an Army first-aid camp that was about a half a kilometer away from our camp. From there I was taken on a horse to a military hospital that was a few kilometers away. After looking at my leg, the doctors at the military hospital told me that my leg has started to rot, as it was summer and it was too hot. The doctor further told me that the hospital did not have sufficient anesthesia to make my leg numb. So I was told I could scream as much as I wanted. And he started opening my leg from the middle part to the kneecap with a sharp knife. I only received one aspirin that day.

    After a few days they told me that there is a train leaving for Finland and I could go there. The soldiers on the train were able to depart at any station as the army was guarding the train stations in Finland. So I got off the train at Jyvaskyla where my sister was living, and stayed with her. I also went to a military hospital in Jyvaskyla and when the doctor there looked at my leg he immediately said, "Okay, we'll cut your leg from the knee. Next patient, please." I replied, "No sir, you cannot cut my leg." The doctor became furious and he disapproved of the fact that I was challenging his decision. We starting arguing. And I said I came here for the treatment, and if the condition of my leg was this bad they could have cut it off back at the field hospital. Eventually, they treated my leg for two months and then I was able to get back to the base in Sortavala in the summer of 1944. At the base, there was an order for the troops to pull back from the frontlines.

    While withdrawing our troops, we had an intense battle in which we were exposed to various explosions and cannon fire. The fight lasted for five days and we lost a lot of soldiers. As far as I remember, the Continuation War ended with this battle. However, the Lapland War started in the summer of 1944, and we were transported to Liminka, a small town in Finland. From there, we were taken to the Finnish-Swedish border that mostly runs through water. We were aware of the fact that the Swedish soldiers were vigilantly attentive to any movement on the Finland border. We were accommodated in the boats moving towards Lapland to expel German soldiers from the Finnish territory. However, it was reported that the first boat carrying Finnish soldiers was shot up by German troops. As a result, it sank and the people who didn't know how to swim drowned in the river.

    We carried all our weapons and started moving towards Lapland on our boat. But halfway in the river we saw naked female dead bodies floating on the river and all of them were shot in the head. We had no idea of what had happened to these women. In general, the invasion through Tornio River on the Finnish-Swedish border was relatively easy because when the German troops saw our boats coming loaded with soldiers and weapons, they evacuated the place. However, very little combat happened between the Finnish troops and German soldiers, as we chased the Germans out of the Finnish territory. The Germans had a habit of burying their dead soldiers on the same field where they died. And they used to put a stick, the helmet of the dead soldier and the time of death on his grave. As we were chasing them out of our territory, we saw many such graves of German soldiers, and sometimes the time recorded on the grave was just a few short hours ago. So it meant that they had died from our cannon fire. The most difficult part of the Lapland War was that we had to walk very long distances, such as we had walked from the Tornio River toward Lapland, which was more than 300 kilometers.

    Then a messenger came and told us that we could head back home tomorrow, but I immediately asked him, "How are we going back home?" He replied, "You have to walk again." So, we started walking back taking a different route as we had an idea that the German soldiers may had set some landmines on the previous route. Eventually, we arrived back at Tornio River where a big ship was waiting to take us back to the port of Vaasa. From there, we were transported to Oriola where we got our military passes. It was in November 1944 that our war was finally over with the Germans. When we arrived at Vaasa, we all wanted to go grocery shopping despite of the fact that we all had very little money. However, nobody was speaking Finnish in Vaasa and the local people were only speaking Swedish as we were actually in Sweden.

    Our captain came to us and asked what we had been buying. But we told him that nobody here spoke Finnish, so we could not buy anything. Hearing this, our captain got furious and took out his gun and asked loudly while looking at the civilians, "Well, nobody speaks Finnish here?" Suddenly, everyone started speaking Finnish and we got what we needed from the grocery store. This is the same captain who I had shared the military camp with back in Sortavala. So he offered us to visit his farmhouse. We took a train from Vaasa and we arrived at the big farm of our captain. He had been always very modest to all of us during our war time in Sortavala, and had always made sure that none of the dead soldiers were left on the battlefield.

    When the war was finally over, I remember thanking God for my life as I believe that life is the biggest gift we have. I also remember that I did not have a positive opinion towards Russia as my family and me had suffered a lot and had been forced to leave Enso where we had our beautiful villa and also the grave of my brother who died earlier in my life. For me, returning to civilian life was quite exciting, and at the same time quite weird because some of the young Finnish people were questioning us if it were fun to kill people out there in the war.

    After the war, I started studying at the art school learning landscaping as I had been always good at drawing. I believe it is a genetic gift that I received from my mother. But life hasn't always been like a party for me. When I got married, I came to know that we couldn't have children. I have always wanted kids so we decided to adopt. We had to take permission from the social board to adopt kids, and they refused us at first. But after looking at our economic status they agreed that we could adopt two children.

    Later, I got a call that a baby girl was born and we could adopt her. When I first saw the little baby girl at the hospital, she looked like an ugly squirrel to me, but when we brought her home she started growing up beautiful. When she was a year old, we decided to adopt another kid, and we went to the homeless children's center. There were so many kids that we couldn't decide how to pick a boy. But suddenly I heard the voice of a little boy from behind me saying, "Please take me home." This is how we got our second child. The boy is now a teacher in a school and our daughter got sick, so she is hospitalized.

    I believe that veterans are always respected and I would like to share a recent experience when I went to a supermarket in Switzerland. As I was walking into the supermarket, a grey-haired lady almost ran past me, and at first I thought that she was in a hurry. But she opened the door for me. She said, "During the war times we had been listening on the radio that if a tiny country like Finland can stand against a superpower like Russia, then Switzerland also has the right to remain free." I believe that war is all about defending your country, and it is the duty of every person to defend his country till his last breath.