Coast Guard Loran Station, Ulithi Atoll
by Ken Smith
Here is another type of shore duty, one without 40 footers, foghorns, and dramatic rescues. Who envisioned this type of duty when they read the recruiting posters?
Potangeras Island, Ulithi Atoll, the "Paradise of the Pacific," and all those lovely native girls. What more could a nineteen-year-old fellow ask for? Well, for one, I had to share them with other young studs, and two, I was a long way from home--in the middle of the Pacific Ocean--and in the Coast Guard! How's that for a bummer?
And I haven't even mentioned the rusty old Quonset huts, the humidity, or the red ants that bit you on the rectum while doing your duty in the "head," or most of all, the damn radio skeds.
This very small tropical island was inhabited by a LTJG, an Engineman and his Seaman striker, a Boatswains Mate, a Hospital Corpsman, a Cook, and eight Electronic Technicians--fourteen "coasties" who ran the Coast Guard Loran Transmitting Station at Ulithi. If you count the Radioman . . . fifteen.
We were a sorry lot. Because of the extreme heat and humidity, we wore cutoff dungarees and Japanese sandals . . . nothing else.
Because the Radioman held skeds with Guam Radio (NRV) four times a day, he never had a chance for more than four hours off at a time during the daylight hours, and he was always moaning about his terrible lot in life. Also in the year 1950, an ET was supposed to be able to copy code at 10 WPM for advancement to Second Class Petty Officer. Well, this idiot ET3 (me!) wanted to be an ET2, so I spent some of my off hours in the radio shack practicing my code into a dummy load, with help from "Sparks."
When I could sort of manage 10 WPM, Sparks suggested I sit in with him and try to copy along on his sked. Gee, I thought, that would be fun. (I can't believe I was that dumb and couldn't see what was coming.)
After a few of these "lessons," he asked if I would take the noon sked so he could make a trip to one of the neighboring islands. I said, "no way," but he claimed it would be a piece of cake because there is never any traffic on Sunday. Besides, I was copying fine--the Radioman at Guam would slow down for me. This was enough bullsh_t - to convince me to do it.
By the time the fateful Sunday arrived, I was a wreck and scared to death. About an hour before sked time, I started practicing and watched the clock count down to the witching hour, as the sweat flowed off my body. Precisely at 1200 hours, with a trembling hand, I sent to NRV that I had a priority message and that I was going to send at 10 WPM because I was an ET.
The operator at NRV immediately acknowledge and told me to go ahead. I sent the message (a weather report) and he acknowledged receipt, then said he had two messages for me. I almost died!
One of them turned out to be some kind of commissary inventory shipment order full of numbers, and I'm trying to copy this in longhand because I couldn't type. I'd get behind and ask him to repeat all after a certain word, then he would start again. I could hear the disgust in his fist. The problem was, he'd start at 10 WPM and gradually speed up to his normal speed.
I don't know how long this went on, but I'm sure he was as frustrated as I. My scribbled longhand copy was covered with sweat droplets. Somehow it finally ended, and I still had to type it up on a message form by the hunt-and-peck method--a chore in itself.
I doubt I've had a more traumatic day in my life. After a few weeks of cooling off, I was conned into doing it again. Can you believe it? I seem to remember it went a little better--but I still had to copy in longhand.
The crowning touch came some time later--the Radioman's tour was over and he was being rotated back to the states. The "old man" informed 14th Coast Guard District they needn't send a replacement because he had an ET who could "do it." There I was, screwed again.
In hindsight, my "Baptism by Fire" wasn't all that bad. Six years later, in 1958, I decided to become an amateur radio operator ("ham") and the Morse code element was a piece of cake. No FCC code test could have been worse than that first day on a "live" key at NRV3 working that "lid" [poor operator] at NRV who couldn't keep his code speed down. I'd still like to meet that Dit jockey for not being nicer to a poor, struggling ET who was out of his element. I'll bet some of you RM's are laughing your heads off!*
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