My friend Jussi

There he stood, in the middle of the slushy schoolyard. In a gray, slightly over-sized cap, wearing a light sweater and dark trousers, on his feet – rubberized boots.

That was true. It was Nokkonen’s Jussi. Two boys – my brother and I – rushed up the stone school steps towards Jussi, who caught us both into a strong and warm embrace.

– …oh Jussi, Jussi… Tears flowed from the all of us. Could this be true? Nokkonen’s Jussi was quite real. Finally we detached and looked at Jussi for a long time, after the initial shock with eyes blurred by tears of joy. And then there was a mutual burst of questions erupted as briskly as is possible only using the dialect of the Karelian Isthmus.

Search by the shooting method

It turned out that Jussi was in the service of the Defense Forces, a cadet of a course in Lahti – although he was not in a uniform – and that he had come specially to see us. Since Jussi had four hours before the return train, he had also the opportunity to visit our parents at their home in the Back Barracks. It was the end of winter and the year was 1941.

Jussi had only heard a few weeks ago that Vähäsarja Family had lived in the Mikkeli barracks area after the Winter War and moved from there to Riihimäki. Having a holiday of less than a day, Jussi had boarded a train from Lahti to Riihimäki for looking us – without knowing the exact address.

To start the search, Jussi had found out the location of the nearest primary schools in Riihimäki station. After receiving the information, Jussi went to the Southern School, where he had asked a teacher for students of the school Antti and Pentti Vähäsarja. After negative answer, Jussi had come up with the question of the name and location of the school closest to the barracks area. It was the Northern Primary School, to which Jussi went – guided by the instructions of the teacher.

From the Rector of the school, Jussi had learned that the boys are the students of this school and would be in the classroom for almost an hour. Rector graciously allowed to pick up the boys immediately. Antti and I were, of course, surprised by the teacher's strict-tasting order – to come out right away, in the middle of an hour. The unexpected and surprising meet with Jussi in the schoolyard was shocking; for some reason it was an event so powerfully highly emotional and sensual that I only experienced the same a few times during my life.

Visit of Jussi

The teacher permitted my brother and me to go home. During the two-kilometer home way, Jussi said almost nothing, because we told him about everything what we and the other boys in the barracks were doing. When we got home, we found that Father was in the field but Mother was at home. The meet with Jussi also moved her to tears and – a rare exception to her usual restraint – to warm embraces.

On that gray and foggy afternoon, we felt like a long-absent family member had returned home. From the warm smile and whole appearance of the lonely, familyless Jussi, we understood that perhaps he also felt himself among his family, perhaps for the first time in a long time.

A lively, uninterrupted talk filled the room; exchanged what they heard, vying with each other. We were told what happened to our family and what had happened to Jussi after the outbreaking of the Winter War and leaving Terijoki. Jussi spoke evasively about his current affairs, including his staying in Lahti and his course. We later found out that Jussi hadn't said much about them. However, the events of the Winter War and the stages of Jussi's staying in the Isthmus Front became clear.

The remaining hours passed far too quickly. Suddenly, Jussi's visit was over. It was time for the back train. Many important questions remained unanswered and many answers were unspoken. There was only enough time for a sad farewell and wishes for an early meeting. Then the door closed as Jussi left.

We stood in the hallway in confusion; visit of Jussi was so short.

Sad seeing off

– No, Jussi can't just leave. My brother and I ran after Jussi, caught up and, holding tightly to his hands, escorted him to the station. Not much was said – it was so difficult. At the station, Jussi once again put us into his strong embrace, got on the departing train and drove off. Two boys, about ten years old, stood on the station platform for a long time – shocked, swallowing tears. The happy Terijoki times, which were so vividly reminded by a close friend of our early childhood, unexpectedly returned, lingered for a moment and left forever.

Happy times

Behind the fence of our house in Terijoki was the Nokkonen’s house, which was hosted and owned by old mistress, the “Nokkonen’s grandmother”, together with her two unmarried daughters. Their assistant was Jussi, an an Ingrian refugee of about thirty years old. This Juho Honkanen, plainly "Nokkonen’s Jussi", was a rare hard-working and conscientious employee, helpful and friendly, sympathetic and appreciated by those around him. The children just adored him.

My best playmate Sirkka and I were constantly “getting under Jussi's feet” every day, but he was amazingly patient with us; taught us to feed the animals, dig a ditch and perform the daily work in the village house. And what's the funniest; after harnessing the horse, Jussi often gave the reins to Sirkka or me. Even going to the mill, Jussi took us with him, lifting the little fussy fidgets to the top of the luggage – in cart or sled.

Jussi sometimes was a babysitter when our parents needed to leave in the evening. Jussi cared for us like the father of his children, protected us when needed and was always close. Children talked to Jussi about their little worries and sorrows, which he took seriously and understood us. In short, Jussi, along with mother and father, was the most positive, influential and important adult in my early childhood.

Sad news and confusion

Before the Winter War, Jussi like other Finnish men entered military service and disappeared from view for a year and a half, but unexpectedly reappeared in the courtyard of the Northern Primary School on the gray spring-winter day of 1941.

We got information that Jussi's fell six months after his visit to Riihimäki, at the first autumn of the Continuation War; it happened around mid-July on the Isthmus – according to later received information – received in Rantakylä Village, Kivennapa Parish. The sad news was accompanied by the unexplained fact that he was abandoned by his own side. It worried my brother and me for a long time, because we were told that "we don't abandon our soldiers". However, the matter was gradually overshadowed by other tragic events of the Continuation War. Later, the fate of Jussi came to mind from time to time only but finally completely unexpectedly it was clarified by the startling description on the book pages.

The last moments of Jussi

A few years ago, I came across a book written by Pentti H. Tikkanen, "Patrolmen of the Isthmus" which described the activities of long-range reconnaissance patrols on the Isthmus during the Continuation War. In this fact-based work, the main characters were the patrolmen of Vehniäinen long-range reconnaissance patrol (Ulk.1/V/ PM, later – 1 / ErP 4), which depicted behind enemy lines as a group rather than as individuals. During a close reading, I had reached the end of page 130 and continued on page 131, where I read:

"The path led to a fenced village road. Some of the patrolmen suggested going around, but others preferred to walk along the road again. The patrolmen were brazenly going down the road. There was electricity in the air. All the senses were extremely amplified. There were strange tightening in the lower abdomen. Something had to happen. About a hundred meters before the store, several men were standing on the road. Two of them began to move towards.

– Stoy, – commanded one of them. A shot rang out at the same time. Another of the enemies had fired with his rifle. The shot was unexpected. Patrolmen did not have time to jump into the shelter.

– I've been hit, – moaned Jussi Honkanen and fell backward.

– Did you get hard? – asked Andrei Porvali, who was right nearby.

But Jussi Honkanen did not answer, only lay motionless on the road. The patrolmen’s weapons rumbled at the same time. The one who shot Honkanen fell first, the others immediately after him. One tried to escape, but Arvo shot of him in flight. The patrol immediately left the place. They disappeared into the depths of the forest. There, the men could only state the harsh reality: Juho Honkanen was left fallen on the battlefield…"

Answers to many questions

This fragment of the book give me insight and shocked me. That was the end of Jussi's life. When I opened the book, I didn't know about its content, about described true events or that it would contained a description of the death of a person who was important and beloved, who was belonged to my childhood.

The rumored and preoccupied us information that "Jussi was abandoned by his own side", found its own explanation in the book, as well as a few unanswered questions asked by Jussi during his short visit to us in the late winter of 1941. Jussi's evasive answers to questions about his activities was doing became clear now; a cadet of long-range reconnaissance patrolman courses could not be very talkative in all matters.


Many happy, sad, and even shocking memories from more than fifty years passed before my eyes, leaving a feeling of melancholy and despondency. At the same time, I also felt deep gratitude that I had a friend like Jussi at the beginning of my life. As a close person, he had been an important and invaluable part of that chain of diverse events that formed my safe, bright, and happy early childhood.

However, that stage of my life, which still clear remains in my memory, did not last long, overshadowed in the in the autumn of 1939 by pressure and threat – even to the children of the border region – by the neighboring state. And it finally ended with the artillery shelling of the center of Terijoki by the guns of the Kronstadt fortress and the fleet in the early morning of November 30, 1939.

Pentti Vähäsarja
Hakku -magazine, no. 1 1996


Shortly after the publication of the above text, I found out that the death of Jussi was mentioned in the book "Long-range reconnaissance patrols of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief's Headquarters in the Continuation War" by Lassi Saressalo and described in the book "As patrolman in the Karelian Isthmus" by Mauri Ahtosalo (Kärpänen). The novel “Long-range reconnaissance patrol Vertti” by Juhani Sipilä describes the Muisto Lassila’s look at the event, who was a participant in this raid. Another patrolman, Antti Porvali, gave his own description of this fatal raid, claimed the lives of three patrolmen. It will be a part of a book that may be published soon. The descriptions of the event that led to death of Jussi, given by each of the above sources – as well, as by Pentti H. Tikkanen – are generally consistent, but are different in the details.

Pentti Vähäsarja
June 5, 2009