Finnish war veteran recalls the fall of his nation

In both wartime and peace, Pentti (Ben) Jarvenpaa, has relied on his instinct to survive.

The 84-year-old veteran stayed alive through the six years of the Second World War, only to witness some of his comrades unable to deal with postwar in Finland.

“They couldn’t cope. They gave up,” he said. “I thought I’m not going to do anything like that.”

Jarvenpaa is a Finnish war veteran, who immigrated with his family to Canada in 1963. He helped found Suomi-Koti, the Finnish Canadian Senior’s Centre, located in East York. He also serves as secretary for the Finnish War Veterans of Canada, Toronto chapter that meets monthly.

Drafted at age 17, Jarvenpaa spent two years with the Finnish Infantry Regiment, on the front lines and a third year aboard the Finnish Navy ship, Kemi 11. The ship’s mine-clearing operations left the veteran with permanent hearing loss. An explosion on one occasion split his eardrums and nearly took his life.

“It was the explosion pressure,” he said. “It nearly destroyed the boat and nearly destroyed us.”

He survived.

However, because the Soviet Union annexed parts of Finland, his family and about 420,000 others lost their homes.

“It was about 12 per cent of Finland’s population who lost their homes, their properties, their farms – like my grandfather’s farm (which) the family had owned for hundreds of years. It was lost,” he said.

Jarvenpaa remains an active member of Suomi-Koti. On Nov. 22, he will attend the screening of a film about Finland’s winter war with the Soviet Union, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the war.

“All nations remember their losses and victories,” he said. “It’s understandable that people write and remember those things and it’s the same with us, you know because it was a big event.”