Sometimes we’re not owed compensation
May 1, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
My father Edward Wictor was such a mystery that yesterday I hired a researcher to find his military records. In my parents’ house and garage, there is not a single document related to Dad’s service. He wrote a history of his time in the United States Coast Guard, but it raises more questions than it answers. For one thing there are no specific dates, just vague terms such as “in the late fall of 1948.” That’s when Dad said he enlisted. Though his service in the Coast Guard may have exposed him to a danger that he didn’t agree to face, sometimes we’re not owed compensation.
By “we” I mean his children. I might be legally entitled to money from the government, but I’m not going to claim it.
Dad first served on the cutter USCGC Androscoggin, sailing in a circle ten miles in diameter 850 miles northeast of Newfoundland. This was Ocean Station Charlie. Dad had no specific duties except menial cleanup chores, and he carried a bucket with him to vomit into. Surface winds got up to ninety miles per hour, and the ship often listed at over forty-five degrees. In thirty days he lost thirty pounds. On the cutter Dad was transferred into the radar room as a trainee, which meant he no longer had to stand watches in the crow’s nest as the ship tilted so far that he nearly touched the ocean.
After an unspecified time on the Andy—as the cutter was called—Dad requested a transfer to the Coast Guard Training Center in Groton, Connecticut, where he learned to be an electronics technician. This photo is captioned “Leave, August 1949.” Dad stands next to his mother Angelina; the three sleeve stripes mean his rank is seaman.
Dad wrote that he spent a year in Groton and then requested a transfer to the Pacific, to a LORAN (Long Range Navigation) station. Coast Guard LORAN stations were grouped in threes; all three together were called a “chain.” Dad was assigned to the master station at Roguron, Majuro Atoll, Marshalls Islands. The other two “slave” stations—that’s what they’re called, so get over it—in the chain were Brown Island, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands; and Bikati Island, Makin Atoll, Gilbert Islands.
Here’s Dad at Roguron in 1950.
That image captures my father’s personality most accurately. In the histroy Dad wrote of his time in the Coast Guard, he says that he transferred himself to Bikati. All three LORAN stations in a chain had their own commanding officers, but their immediate superior was the commanding officer of the chain supply ship. Dad says his friend asked the ship’s skipper if Dad could come to Bikati, and the ship commander approved the transfer. So Dad left Roguron without telling his own CO.
Bikati was so close, and the water was so shallow, that you could walk there from Roguron. Dad took this photo on Bikati; Roguron is in the distance.
Dad’s history of his time in the Coast Guard says that shortly before he arrived on Bikati, a sailor murdered the station commander. The sailor was supposedly having an affair with an island girl. He got caught sneaking off at night, and the commander restricted him to base. In retaliation the sailor stabbed to death the commander while he slept.
I found a Website that lists all the Coast Guard LORAN stations and their personnel. It says the murder took place in 1951. I sent them several messages, but they never responded. Finally I uncovered a single newspaper article describing the crime, which actually took place on June 3, 1949. This is from The Escanaba Daily Press, Escanaba, Michigan, June 6, 1949, page twelve, column one.
My father said it happened in 1950, the Website said 1951, and the newspaper said 1949. This is emblematic of my father’s existence. After he died, everything I thought I knew about him was called into question. Absolutely everything.
If the newspaper is accurate, the sailor was on Bikati for twenty days before he killed his commander. Is that long enough to fall so deeply in love that you’ll murder the person who temporarily keeps you from your girlfriend? Some of the photos Dad took at Bikati make me very uncomfortable. The way the sailors touch the native women seems quite brutal. Look at the hand around the throat.
Dad said the islanders were very cheerful, friendly people. Do either of those women strike you as happy to be there? This next photo bothers me even more.
The woman on the right looks terrified. Her arm hangs there helplessly, as though she can’t bear the smugly grinning sailor’s touch.
Am I reading too much into these images? It’s entirely possible. I spent nearly a month trying to get information from individuals, groups, sites, and organizations, and none of them responded. According to a former LORAN crewman, “The LORAN community is very, very tight.” Well, since none of you guys answered me, I went ahead and posted what I have. If I’m wrong and everything was above board on Bikati, why didn’t you just tell me?
Because I’m an outsider. I’m not part of the tribe.
That brings me to the point of this post. The Coast Guard admitted in 2011 that LORAN crews might have been exposed to enough radiation that it gave them cancer. My father died of bone cancer, and he’d had prostate cancer before that. For almost fifty years Dad also drank up to two fifths of scotch a day and smoked five packs of cigarettes, and he ate nothing but saturated fat and sugar. Did the Coast Guard hide the dangers of LORAN from the men who operated the stations? I don’t know.
While Dad was on Bikati, the US military tested a whole bunch of hydrogen bombs on Eniwetok Atoll, right next door. Prepare to have your mind blown after you watch the footage of the atomic cannon.
Those tests were called Operation Greenhouse. If the brass knew that hydrogen-bomb tests and LORAN would give men cancer, then the victims and their families should be compensated. Also, those who deliberately hid the dangers should be stripped of all their awards, their names should be publicized, and the Secretary of Defense should take responsibility for the harm caused.
I won’t be filing a lawsuit against the Coast Guard. Dad lived totally recklessly for eighty-four years, believing that the rules didn’t apply to him. I’ve discovered in the past month that the “LORAN community” is as secretive as Dad was, so I’m not emotionally invested in what happens from here on out. If LORAN crewmen get compensated, fine. If they don’t, well…
How come the murder of Lt. (JG) Roger Devan has been virtually removed from the public record? The US Coast Guard Website doesn’t include his name on any casualty list. Neither his name nor the name of his alleged killer—Seaman Dennis S. Dwyer—appear on the roster of LORAN crewmen that LORAN History.info compiled.
My father’s name doesn’t appear on that roster either, even though he served at three stations. I have no idea why. As I said, Dad was a complete mystery. That was what he wanted, and that’s how he’ll remain. I’ve had several people contact me and ask if I can tell them privately what it is in my past that cost me everything, including the woman I thought I was destined to be with forever. When I’m asked, I explain that this is something I never discuss, because doing so always comes back and shreds me with razor-sharp teeth.
I don’t ignore the question, I don’t hide, and I certainly don’t lie to try and cover up crimes and sins. I’ve seen the terrible price that people pay for living lives that are based on lies.
The truth—even if expressed only to oneself—will set you free.
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