By Zuerrnnovahh-Starr Livingstone
May 8, 2005
Sixty years ago my father, Jim, was standing guard at the
Citadel in Halifax Nova Scotia. He and three fellow sailors, rifles at the
ready, were happy that their war was over. My father was 19, his war had
lasted 20 months. With his mother's consent he had signed up in the Canadian
Navy at 17 years at Esquimault near Victoria British Columbia on August
26 1943. He had his tenth grade and had been working at a sawmill near Lake
Cowichan for the summer and decided not to return for his eleventh year
Training was in Regina Saskatchewan. As a child, I remember
seeing the swimming trophies he won in the pool at the RCMP School just
west of Regina. He had two medals, but I saw them just once. He did not
talk about them. He took one of the original Michigan IQ tests and got 165
out of 220. They instructors suggested that he take the Ninety Day crash
course towards becoming and officer possibly a captain. At this time Canada
had more boats than captains. The "Ninety Day Wonders" as these
captains were called at the time did not fair too well. They may have done
more damage to the Canadian Navy than the German U-boats. Due to my father's
youth he was given a junior officer rank and assigned to a boat guarding
Bermuda. Before shipping off to the Atlantic, he returned home for leave
in Vancouver and like all sailors in a port town, celebrated like a sailor.
Instead of taking the Canadian Pacific Rail to the east he
took the Great Northern out of Seattle. At Pocatello Idaho, the end of shift
for that portion of the route, the Head Conductor told Jim, "Hi, I
am your father, Howard." After the handshake Howard left the train.
It was the first time that Jim had seen his father since age five. A truly
bizarre event especially considering where he was headed.
Jim did not want to enlist with the Canadian Army because
his father had served four years in France 1914 to 1918. Howard was born
in New York City, and seeing that the USA was not involved, joined the Hamilton
Light Infantry in Ontario. He started as a private and received a battlefield
officer's commission and ended the war as a captain. He had survived four
years of shelling and he was changed. I do not know what battles he had
been in, but he probably had been at Vimy Ridge. His marriage to Iona from
Moose Jaw Saskatchewan lasted until 1930. While working on the Florida rail
line Jim was born in New Smyrna Beach in 1926. Jim did not want to be in
the army, he loved the water.
Jim became one of the youngest Bos'n Mates the Canadian Navy
ever had and because of his high IQ he was given a special job. He ran the
Aztec Underwater Detection system as well as the hydro-phones.
I remember asking him if Aztec was sonar? He said, "No." He would
not answer. Years later I asked him when he had consumed a dozen beer and
a Player's Navy Cut cigarette in his hand, "What was Aztec?" He
did not want to answer but he said, "Underwater radar." I replied,
"Radar is not supposed to work underwater." He changed the subject.
Jim never did tell me what Aztec was but
I was able to piece together bits and pieces of conversations from many
years. Aztec was developed in Britain, worked in a narrow range
of microwave frequencies, and could paint the bottom of
the ocean for twenty miles, crystal clear. It also cooked anyone
near the emitter array. Sailors were warned not to be anywhere near the
emitter when it was operating, it would render men sterile.
One by one the men got sick and were sent to the hospital.
Jim in the control room received the least amount of microwaves but even
he noticed that his heart was beating irregularly. If he was resting his
heart beat would race up to 120 beats per minute. If he got active his heart
would slow to 60 bpm. I remember seeing him stop for air as his natural
pace maker in the nerve node on the wall of his heart would not quicken
the beat rate to provide more oxygen to his body. The nerves were cooked.
Jim was sent to hospital in Halifax. He was there for months and had all
manner of medical tests. The doctors said that he had rheumatic heart disease,
or a staph infection of the heart. He was "lucky". "He probably
caught the infection by not drying his hair before going outside after a
shower." Evidently there had been an epidemic of rheumatic fever and
a lot of men had died. Aztec was a killer. A lot of Jim's crewmates were
I asked my dad, "Why do you not go to the navy reunions?"
He answered, "They are gone." Later I asked, "Why do you
not go to the Canadian Legion to drink?" He replied, "They talk
too much." I could see that he had been sworn to secrecy regarding
his wartime experiences. Even in the bits and pieces that I pried out of
him I could see a lot of pain, a lot of denial, a lot of anger.
He told me his worse duty was shooting and sinking the bloated
bodies of British sailors in the Sargasso Sea. He never said which ship
had been sunk.
He said that he and his buddies "borrowed" a jeep
after watching the 1942 movie "Rat Patrol" and "spun the
tires" on the greens of an exclusive Bermuda golf course.
He said, while the captain was on leave he parked the boat
in a shallow bay for a few days. The bay happened to be under the island's
main radio tower and he had zero reception. The war went away for a few
days. Jim knew how to get lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
Jim never trusted doctors after Halifax. Even as he was dying
for unknown pathologies at age 73 in February 1999, he refused all tests.
His microwaved heart had continued beating its irregular beat for 55 years
without heart surgery or an artificial pace-maker. More than a decade earlier,
he did have one lobe of his right lung removed for an unusual type of lung
cancer. It was hard to get him to see the doctor. We do not know what actually
killed him and we never will. He requested that his ashes be sprinkled over
Georgia Strait where he loved to fish.
May 8 1945, a train full of soldiers shipping out to Europe
arrived in Halifax just as Victory in Europe was declared. The soldiers
were happy. They were excited. They poured off the train into Halifax to
party. In Times Square sailors were kissing the girls. In Piccadilly Circus
they were singing at the top of their lungs. In Halifax Canadians were looking
for booze. They smashed windows and looted liquor stores. Jim and three
other sailors were made temporary provost marshals and issued a jeep and
four rifles. He drove down to the riot and made one of his wisest decisions
of his life. He retreated. Jim drove up to the Citadel parked near the old
cannons and guarded the hill. Maybe the rioters thought about seeing the
sights from the old fort but with four men guarding the heights none dared
assail those walls. The next day with all the soldiers sleeping off their
hangovers the rebuilding of Halifax commenced. Canadian soldiers damaged
Halifax not any other invading army.
Jim may have been the last survivor of Aztec. I do not know.
It is a secret. It was a secret. It was sixty years ago and it is time to
reveal the errors, lies and cover up.
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the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.