Jordan Uttal: US airman and founder member of the 2nd Air Division Association

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The Independent Online

In 1947 six former 2nd Air Division USAAF officers who had been stationed at Headquarters in Norfolk during the Second World War, and who lived in the Chicago area in the US, decided to meet at the apartment of one of them for a few drinks on a Friday evening to remember old times.

When their gathering broke up on the Sunday afternoon they agreed that it had been such a success that they should repeat the event the following year. The wife of the officer in whose apartment the get-together took place indicated that it would be a splendid idea for them to meet again, but that under no circumstances was this to take place in her apartment.

From these small and inauspicious beginnings there started the 2nd Air Division Association, an organisation which, at its peak, had a membership of nearly 9,000 Americans, all of whom had been stationed in Norfolk or northeast Suffolk during the War.

Jordan Uttal, who has died in Dallas, Texas at the age of 94, was one of those six officers. He played a central role in the Association’s affairs over the ensuing 62 years, serving, since 1989, as its honorary president. One of the primary purposes of the Association was to support the Memorial Trust of the 2nd Air Division and the Memorial Library in Norwich.

The Memorial Trust had been established as a UK Charity in 1945 in memory of the nearly 7,000 American airmen of that Division who had been killed in action. It received a significant endowment at the start from the departing Americans. Whilst it took some years for the Memorial Library to be constructed, in due course it opened in 1963 but was destroyed by fire on 1 August 1994 along with the remainder of the Norwich City Library. It was recreated, however, in an enlarged form, in a building called The Forum which was opened in November 2001. The Forum, a Millennium Commission funded landmark building, was one of three built in the last decade in the centre of Norwich, designed by the renowned architect Sir Michael Hopkins.

From the late 1940s to the present day, the Association has continued to send funds to the Memorial Trust in Norwich to support this unique war memorial which houses contemporary books about American life and culture, the 2nd Air Division’s Roll of Honour, archive film and other material.

Jordan Uttal was born in New York in 1915. He attended New York University and subsequently Harvard Business School. He enlisted in the US military three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and arrived in Norfolk in May 1943. He concluded his war service with the rank of Major and with overall responsibility for statistical data, especially bombing accuracy analysis.

During the War he met and married an English lady, Joyce. After the termination of hostilities he and his GI bride returned to the US and he resumed his career in the American food industry. For a number of years he was a senior executive with the Kraft Corporation.

The 2nd Air Division Association held annual Conventions throughout the States and, on several occasions, in Norwich. The arrangements for all these conventions were made by Evelyn Cohen, the Association’s membership secretary, who was one of a limited number of American women sent over to assist the military in the War. Uttal liked to refer to Cohen as the Association’s Mother Superior, which, given both their Jewish origins, caused a certain amount of mirth.

Uttal’s larger-than-life character, combined with his oratorical skills and liking for risqué jokes in venerable company, gave these reunions an extra edge. They culminated in a convention in Norwich in November 2001 when the Forum and the Memorial Library were opened with much fanfare, with many hundreds of veterans and family members attending from the States. At this convention the Association was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City of Norwich, the only time in the City’s long history that this honour was given to a foreign organisation.

Uttal, as at all previous Conventions, played centre stage. Given the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, this last Convention on this side of the Atlantic held extra poignancy.

Matthew Martin

Jordan R. Uttal, philanthropist: born New York City 30 July 1915; enlisted in the American Air Corps December 1941; founder member of the 2nd Air Division Association USAAF 1947, Honorary Life President 1989 to 2009; married 1942 Joyce Christie King; died Dallas, Texas 15 November 2009.