Eric Heikkala Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Heikkala, Eric
1981 (inclusive)
3 file folders
1 photograph
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Eric Heikkala, a Finnish immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 253-535-7586
Fax: 253-535-7315
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The oral history collection is open to all users.

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Eric Heikkala was born on April 24, 1916 in Hailuoto, Finland, which is located on an island between Sweden and Finland near Oulu in the north. His parents were Viljo Heikkala and Fanny Sipila, and Eric was the eldest of five children. After grammar school, Eric began farming and then became a sailor so he could earn enough money to go to school and obtain his captain's and pilot's licenses. Eric sailed to England, Italy, North Africa, and the United States. In 1939, Finland went to war with Russia, and Eric was sent to northern Finland, where he was in charge of six other men. When the shooting started, they rowed to Norway, but the Norwegian village they arrived at was full of Russians. The Russians found them, and Eric became a prisoner of war for four months and twenty days. By the time he was released, Eric was so weak that he had to be carried back to Finland. He remained in the hospital for awhile and then started working on ships again. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the United States bought the ship Eric was working on, and he was told to go to America and find work. Eric stayed with an uncle in New York for several months, during which time he met his future wife, Ida Pitkanen, in Manhattan. Ida was originally from Muuruvesi, Finland. After his stay in New York, Eric then went to Vancouver, WA and began doing carpentry work. Once he was settled, he sent for Ida and got married. They had two sons, Wayne and Roy. Both of the boys understand Finnish, and Eric is very proud of his heritage. He has belonged to the Finnish Brotherhood and has made several trips back to Finland.


Full Name: Eric Heikkala. Father: Viljo Heikkala. Mother: Fanny Siplia. Paternal Grandfather: Kustaa Heikkala. Paternal Grandmother: Erika Pirkola. Brothers and Sisters: Anne Heikkala, Elsa Heikkala, Inkeri Heikkala, Simo Heikkala. Spouse: Ida M. Pitkanen. Children: Roy Heikkala, Wayne Heikkala.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Eric Heikkala on August 27, 1981 in Vancouver, Washington. It contains information on family background, being a prisoner of war, coming to America, marriage and family, and Finnish heritage. The interview also includes a photograph of Eric at the time of the interview.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
85, side 1 007: ERIC SAKARI HEIKKALA
Born April 24, 1916 in Hailuoto, Finland. Hailuoto is on an island between Sweden and Finland near Oulu in the north.
85, side 1 037: PARENTS
Viljo and Fanny. Father was a farmer and fisherman.
85, side 1 054: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
One brother and three sisters. Eric is the eldest. Anne, Elsa, Inkeri, and Simo.
85, side 1 073: GRANDPARENTS
Kustaa Heikkala and Erika Heikkala. He was a farmer and a sailor. Sailed to America and all over the world. This was before Eric was born. He could speak English and taught Eric.
85, side 1 111: FAMILY NAME
You got your name from the place you lived. If you moved, you'd take that name with you. His great grandparents had no children. They took in a boy who they were godparents for. The boy came from a large family. The boy's name was Heikkinen but he took the name Heikkala when he moved in with them.
85, side 1 148:
The island Hailuoto is: Small island, about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide. There used to be a lot of people on the island - about 2300 when he left. Now about 900. People fished and farmed. A lot of pilots left from the island. You could go to school and get your captains license and then your pilots license.
85, side 1 174: SCHOOL
Went to school on Hailuoto. Finland had just gained independence. At that time, you still had to pay for high school. He started farming first and then became a sailor so he could earn money and go to school.
85, side 1 199: SAILING
First went to England, Italy, and North Africa. Sailed between Finland and the U.S. when the war broke out. English started war and then it came to Finland. They sailed to South America and North America. In 1937, He'd served his compulsory 440 days in the Finnish Army. Then he came to America. Went back to Finland in 1939 when war broke out.
85, side 1 247: WINTER WAR: 1939
Finland went to war with Russia. Eric was sent to the northern most part of Finland. He was in charge of six other men. They stayed there for 2-3 months, watching for Russians. The Russians had thousands of men. They had a boat and it was about 5 kilometers to the place they had to report to. The morning they started shooting, Eric had to burn all of the books with secret codes.
85, side 1 284:
Their boat had already left. They found another little boat and tried to row to Norway, which wasn't very far. Heavy winds made it difficult to get in. They tried for two nights. Went to a Norwegian village. They were hungry. Village was full of Russians. The Russians saw them. There was nobody else around. They went back to their old boat, which was upside down and slept underneath it. The Russians
85, side 1 300:
found them. The Russians took them to Murmansk for 2-3 weeks and then to Petrozavodsk for about a month. Then they took them somewhere else. He was held prisoner for 4 months and 20 days. He got Typhus while at the camp. When they let the prisoners go after the Winter War.
85, side 1 322:
Eric was so weak that he had to be carried back to Finland. There were 600-700 prisoners in the camp and about 5,000-6,000 Russian soldiers. The next war started one year later. They weren't treated very well at the camp. They didn't get much to eat. Their camp in Petrozavodsk was an old naval station. The other camp was in an old Catholic monastery in Tradsovich (?). Before they were moved to that camp, about 5,000 Polish officers who had been there were shot.
85, side 1 370: LAND LOST
Although Finland had to give up quite a bit of land, still it was amazing that the Finns could hold off the Russians. The Finns were really outnumbered. Mannerheim was the leader of the Finns. The Germans came to help fight Russia in WWII. Then the Finns had to fight the Germans to get them out. The Germans burned and destroyed northern Finland as they left. Eric was in the hospital for a while after the war. Then he started working on ships again. They worked out of Petsamo, Finland's only ice-free port in the North.
85, side 1 415:
After England started the war, they couldn't work at Petsamo (The Russians took it).
85, side 1 416:
They rented the ship, North McCormick American Line (sp), registered a Panama flag, and sailed to North and South America.
85, side 1 426: STAYING IN AMERICA
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. needed ships. They bought the ship Eric was on. They told him to go work in America. He had to check in once a month. He was still considered an alien.
85, side 1 453: FINDING WORK
He stayed with an uncle in New York for 2-3 months. He met his wife in Manhattan. He met a lot of Finnish people there. Then he went to the West. Worked for carpenters in Vancouver, WA.
85, side 1 467:
None of the other members of his family have come to the U.S. They still live in Hailuoto, Oulu, and Rovaniemi. He has gone back to Finland several times to visit.
85, side 1 488:
Eric had neutral feelings when the ship was sold and he was told to find work in the U.S. He just wanted to save money and go to school. He never got to be a pilot on a ship but he has his own boat.
85, side 1 500: LEARNING ENGLISH
Didn't speak much when he came. Could read a little. He took a bus from New York to the West coast in 1942. Got to Portland, Ore. on the last day of February. When he was in Chicago, the bus didn't come at the time it was scheduled. He went to the information desk to find out when the next bus would come. Nobody could speak Finnish, so they acted out what was going on. This is how he
85, side 1 537:
communicated. He learned English by taking a few classes, working, and listening to baseball games on the radio.
85, side 1 554 :
Eric and his wife-to-be wrote to each other. She was still in New York. She came to Vancouver, WA and they got married. They have two boys both were born and grew up in Vancouver. Wayne - born in 1946, went to the Wash. St. Univ. Roy - born in 1949, went to Portland State. Has his masters.
85, side 1 579: CHURCH
They went to the nearest church. There weren't any Finnish people there other that themselves. When the boys were young, they joined a church in Portland that had a Finnish minister. They still belong to that church.
They belonged to the Finnish Brotherhood or "Veljesseuratu." They don't go very often now.
85, side 1 613: TRIPS BACK TO FINLAND
Things have gotten a lot better. They have lots of relatives there. Write and telephone each other. Parents still living in Hailuoto. Mother 86 and father 87 years old.
They carry on the same traditions as Americans.
Eric is proud of his heritage. Heikkala is hard to pronounce but it's good for business. His sons help him with his construction business now. Wayne worked for a bank for five years and Roy has worked for the City of Portland.
He and his wife speak Finnish around the house. The boys understand it. Roy went to Finland a year ago and got along pretty well.
Don't judge a person's intelligence by his looks.
85, side 1 698:
Circumstances brought Eric here to the U.S. He can't really say whether he'd have come here otherwise, but he's happy here.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Finland
  • Finland--Social conditions--1945-
  • Finnish-Americans--Northwest,Pacific--Interviews
  • Finnish-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Russo-Finnish War, 1939-1940
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Personal Names :
  • Heikkala, Eric--Interviews ( creator)
  • Pitkanen, Ida
  • Sipila, Fanny
  • Heikkala, Roy
  • Heikkala, Viljo
  • Heikkala, Wayne
  • Corporate Names :
  • Finnish Broth erhood (Vancouver, Wash.)
  • Messiah Lutheran Church (Portland, Or.)
  • Family Names :
  • Heikkala family
  • Pitkanen family
  • Sipila family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Hailuoto Island (Finland)
  • Muuruvesi (Finland)
  • Vancouver (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Carpenters