Gooney Birds, Midway and NMO
by Bruno Yoka
It isn't only the snipes who scrounged parts, picked junk piles, and conducted midnight small stores to keep their gear running. Others were equally adept.............................
Of all the duties I've ever experienced, my assignments in the 14th Coast Guard District were perhaps the most varied and unusual, to say the least.
Initially assigned to the High Frequency Direction Finder* plot section of the Rescue and Coordination Center in April, 1947, in a place called Lizard's Tunnel, initially a command post built underneath one of Oahu's mountains following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our mission was to coordinate and plot radio direction finder (RDF) bearings from the Pacific HF/DF net stations on Midway, Johnston and Palmyra Islands.
A problem developed when some of the Coast Guard radiomen on Midway were caught drinking beer on base, none of whom were over 19 years of age. Regulations by the Navy strictly prohibit the consumption of alcohol beverage on a Navy base. A fire had also damaged their shower/head building. To avoid further embarrassment to the Coast Guard, it was decided to send a senior, more mature radioman to take charge. I soon found myself on a PB4Y plane from Kaneohe Naval Air Station bound for Midway. For the uninitiated a Navy PB4Y Privateer is nothing more than a B-24 Liberator bomber with a single tail rudder, and not the best means of transportation. Wearing only khakis and flying at about 7000 feet made for a chilly trip.
My first introduction to the Gooney Bird came while landing, trying to avoid a few that wandered onto the landing strip on Midway. Their real name is the Laysan Albatross, the most graceful bird in flight, but also the most awkward while on the ground. Midway Island is one of the larger bird sanctuaries in the Pacific, with strict laws enforced for their protection.
While checking out the Coast Guard DF station, I noticed a cannibalized F4U Corsair plane in a revetment with the VMF-214 squadron number on its tail. The plane's close proximity to the DF equipment could possibly introduce an error in that quadrant. I mentioned to the Chief of the Fire Department that I would like to burn the plane to get rid of it. The plane was removed the following day and used in firefighting drills. Years later, while watching the TV series "Baa Baa Black Sheep," I discovered that the plane once belonged to "Pappy" Boyington's Black Sheep Marine Squadron.
Walking through thousands and thousands of Black Sooty Terns nesting in the sand on the pathway to the DF station was a regular obstacle course, but by detouring through the endless Marine Corps dugouts, I could avoid these pesty birds. I noticed numerous coconuts sprouting from number #10 cans collected by the Marines during their stay on this end of the island and mentioned this to the Navy Chiefs. They decided to line the driveway to their quarters with them. And as far as I know, these plants are now full-grown coconut trees today. A fine remembrance of the Coast Guard presence on Midway in these post-war days.
A huge pile of junked electronic equipment was a ham operator's paradise. TBW transmitters stripped from planes returning stateside were laying about, and crystals by the hundreds were scattered in the sand. No one leaving Midway was permitted to take any of the surplus equipment--the MP's confiscated it all.
Discarded Kohler gasoline generators were used to power floating platforms made from aircraft drop tanks, but this past-time soon ceased when an engine stopped on one of them, causing it to drift outside of the lagoon and required a S&R plane to locate it.
The Coast Guard radiomen collected green glass fishing balls ocean currents deposited on the beach on the western side of the island. Japanese fishing trawlers used them for their nets and the radiomen lined the path leading to the shower/head building with these strays.
Only a month or two later the HF/DF stations were closed and we were reassigned to Honolulu where I thought to take it easy, only to find myself on temporary duty on the USCGC HERMES, a 165-foot "B" class cutter with a few problems. Those who have served on a 165-footer know that there is no a.c. for the radio equipment. A.C. was obtained from alternators only to operate the radio gear. One of the RM's decided to plug in an electric iron to press his whites for liberty. When the iron stopped working, he switched over to another. Needless to say, when District Operations noted their only S&R cutter down for repairs, things happened rather quickly. New alternators were immediately requisitioned from Pearl Harbor. That RM3 in question was soon checking about liberty somewhere in the Philippines from a town I have yet to learn to pronounce.
Coast Guard Radio Station Honolulu
After a short tour of duty, I was ordered to Coast Guard Radio Station, Honolulu. Someone had discovered I had graduated from Radio Engineering & Maintenance School at Groton, Conn. Since ET's were scarce at that time, District Engineering thought I would be more valuable at NMO, since they couldn't convince me to change my specialty. RM-in-Charge, Milton Corey, was happy to have an RM with technical background. Though Coast Guard history doesn't show it, Chief Corey was one of the mighty few that could copy Japanese Morse code. He taught quite a few Navy RM's who eventually broke the Japanese encrypted message code.
Radio Station Honolulu was the site of the original Navy Radio of the Pacific, NPM, located in Wailupe. Among the collection of transmitters was a 10 kilowatt Collins Autotune TDH-transmitter. It had a few problems but they were quickly corrected. Keeping lizards out of the transmitters was one, and removing the dead became a weekly chore. This pride and joy was used mostly on 12690 kcs. to communicate with the Pacific loran chain.
During the 1949 Trans-Pacific Yacht race to Hawaii, one of the yachts got into trouble and sent a Mayday. The senior RM on watch decided to try out the TDH transmitter for this distress on 2670 kcs. Everything went along just fine. The Coast Guard made the front page of the Honolulu newspapers when all hell broke loose. It seems that the Inter-island Telephone Company also had their radiotelephone frequencies near 2670 kcs, and every time the transmitter was keyed, it would wipe out this telephone service. The Coast Guard District Office handled all of the public relations work, citing the FCC rule that a distress call took precedence over all other communications.
Return to Coast Guard Stories