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2014-05-04 at 17:14

Lucky to be alive

By Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com
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THUNDER BAY -- Ernie Takalo considers himself fortunate to be alive.

Nearly 70 years to the day since the Royal Canadian Navy vessel he was serving on was torpedoed, the veteran of the Second World War is thankful he was one of the lucky ones rescued from the waters of the English Channel.

Takalo, now 89, was still shy of his 20th birthday when he was serving as a stoker aboard the HMCS Athabaskan on the evening of April 29, 1944 when it was on the receiving end of a German missile.

He remembers being thrust into the water by the force of the impact.

“I was going up the ladder and flew I don’t know how far. About half were saved,” he said.

He was lucky to be one of them, he adds softly.

The explosion and subsequent sinking claimed the lives of 128 of those aboard. The others, like Takalo, were rescued by the nearby HMCS Haida.

One of the memories that sticks with Takalo the most is the amount of oil that was discharged into the ocean after the Athabaskan was struck. It made his desperate swim for survival even more challenging.

“I was covered in oil. It was terrible if you swallowed any,” he said. “It was hard to swim.”

It is the spirit of Takalo and his fellow Second World War veterans who are commemorated in the annual Battle of the Atlantic remembrance ceremony, which was held at the HMCS Griffon on Sunday.

The Battle of the Atlantic, which was waged from September 1939 until May 1945 was the longest single campaign in the Second World War.

Of the more than 2,000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy who perished during the Second World War, the majority of them lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean.

When it was sunk, the Athabaskan was patrolling the English Channel in search of German warships in advance of a planned invasion of the French coast.

That invasion, which has been come to known as D-Day, came a little more than one month later.

Takalo is lucky in more ways than one. Other than being hard of hearing, he has endured the passing of time quite well. He has his independence, mobility and retains the memories from is experiences.

However, with each passing year the significance of the ceremony grows as there are fewer of his fellow veterans to share their story and convey the cost of war.

“I think it’s very marvelous that people come out and honour us sailors,” he said. “I think the young people need to understand.”

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Comments

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Molly says:
Thank You Mr. Takalo and all Veterans
5/4/2014 6:09:11 PM
Shane Caker says:
Thank you Ernie.
5/4/2014 7:18:27 PM
Gord says:
You are one of my heroes sir - live a long and strong life.
5/4/2014 8:29:34 PM
signman says:
Enjoyed reading your story and we truly are grateful. My father was a pilot in the second world war and flew a mosquito airplane. He crashed in the English Channel and survived.
I know some of your fellow navy vets inclucing Elmer Auld, Roy Lamore, Ken McKaskil and Jim McCall who I once worked for.
We truly are lucky to live in a democratic country, thanks to all of you.
5/4/2014 10:01:24 PM
Lpitura says:
Thank you sir. You deserve the respect of all Canadians. I hope someday the selfish ones can see that.

We all owe you.
5/4/2014 11:34:08 PM
mauroj says:
There are not enough words to accurately describe what these people went through. Our way of life will forever be attached to their sacrifice. That is why we formed the Military Tribute Committee to erect a permanent monument listing every person from Thunder Bay who has been killed while serving Canada.

We are waiting for City Council to advise us on May 12th, on where they feel this monument should be built.

Our committee will soon have our website running in the next stage of our project development. in keeping with our presentation, there has already been interest from surrounding communities to have this be a District of Thunder Bay wide initiative.

Thankfully, Mr. Takalo will not have his name displayed on this monument but we will find a way to recognize those individuals like him who served Canada in such a selfless fashion.

Our committee thanks him, and we are committed to ensuring that no one ever forgets their sacrifice.

Jim Mauro
Military Tribute Committee
5/5/2014 10:34:37 AM
pc says:
I had 2 uncles and my grandfather who all served. they all came home safely but they never talked about it. Now they are all gone and I so wish I knew their stories.
My husband lost 3 uncles but his father came home and there again he wouldn't talk about it.
More veterans should have told and tell their stories about the true Canadian heroes they are.
Thank you for talking the younger generations need to know what Canadians did and not just be lumped into the British history.
Again thank you and thanks to this news source for letting it be known.
5/5/2014 11:13:19 AM
Stephen says:
Thank you, sir.
5/5/2014 3:39:29 PM
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