John Livingstone’s memoirs read like a journal. It is a treasure trove of personal anecdotes and has the makings of a Hollywood script. Starting with his humble beginnings in his beloved hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin with a population of fewer than forty thousand people. He was a precocious and bright young man growing up in a town that suffered during the Great Depression, but the sweet people made his hometown a special place. The wonderful people of Oshkosh gave Livingstone a heroes welcome when he returned for a book signing in 2002.
Oshkosh could not contain Livingstone. As a youth, Livingstone craved adventure, and the Army was about to send him on a journey which would become the path for a lifelong adventure. He speaks five languages including English – of course. He has a Masters Degree and is fluent in Spanish. He said, “I get along well in French and German, and my Polish is rusty after sixty years”. This is just one example of his abilities that made him invaluable throughout his years of service and in his travels. His quick wit came in handy as a soldier – saving his life on many occasions.
In 1944, Livingstone was selected to attend the British Army’s Mine and Booby Trap School which taught him many things. He also had a close call driving through a mine field; as machine gun bullets whizzed over his jeep and trailer under cover of night. Of course he and his partner did not know at the time they were driving through a mine field until the next morning when daylight revealed their muddy tracks and the black and yellow skull and crossbones sign. He credits his mother’s prayers for these among his many brushes with death.
A school friend from the University of Wisconsin, Tom Gabriel, enlisted with Livingstone to “beat the draft”. Soon after the young men turned eighteen, the young men received identical ordered to report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. They were no longer just good friends, but brothers in arms. One week before the war ended, their unit was near the Czech border and Gabriel was hit. They entered this war together, but only one would be returning home alive.
Livingstone was often the target of playful ridicule in his battalion. Many of his comrades happen to be from New York. To them, Oshkosh was “the sticks”.
In the early 1980’s, Livingstone met a man who had been a German soldier who, in a strange coincidence, had been in the same battle near Cologne; just on the opposing side. At the time, Livingstone was manning an observation post and would call fire whenever the enemy was spotted. Had he spotted this young man, he would have ordered the kill. He was grateful he never saw him. Here the men were, decades later, in the most unlikely of friendships. Livingstone recalls Deiter Braun as one of his best friends. Braun passed recently, but Livingstone recalls their friendship with warmth.
Livingstone worked in Europe as an intelligence officer during the Cold War in the 1950’s. He found his camera was an excellent tool and it led to his career as a professional photographer. One particular photograph was added to the Queen’s private collection just two years ago. Other works are not only published but are in the Library of Congress as well as the Smithsonian.
In 1963 in Carmel, CA, Livingstone was having his morning coffee in the local soda fountain he frequented. A gorgeous redhead reading a French textbook caught his eye. He approached her with one of his many stories of his time in France when he worked in intelligence and had an office in the police station under the famous Opera house. So, you could say his quick wit also gained him his bride, Nancy.
In their fifty-two years of marriage, John and Nancy have shared many adventures abroad. Her eyes beam with pride and her beautiful smile tells of a happy life and marriage. The pair raised their blended family of six daughters around the globe. They spent most of their formative years going to school in Switzerland and England.
Retirement here in our charming city of Tigard brings them near two of their six daughters, where they’ve resided for the past decade. The pair also share eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. The walls of their home are lined with memories, history, and photos of celebrities. Their coffee table has stacks of articles and photo books by Livingstone himself, It is but a small glimpse into his well-lived ninety-one years of life. They attribute playing chess to staying sharp mentally.
Livingstone has many more stories to share. He has finished writing a second book, which is not yet published. Sadly, he has many stories he cannot share because they’re classified. Mrs. Livingstone thinks that she could get him to talk, but with a smile he says, “I’ll never tell”.
The Great Depression. General Patton’s Third Army. The Cold War. John Livingstone is a living legend.