My scalp tingled! The signal coming from the Philco battery-powered radio was loud and clear. Then it came again: dot dash dash, dot dash, dot dash dot, sent slowly enough for anyone to read, even a 16-year-old Alabama farm boy. I looked at the dots and dashes I had marked down and matched them with W, A, and R from the table of International Morse Code in my old Science book and, no doubt about it, war had been declared that evening in December, 1937.
From ads in magazines I knew that a person could get advance news on Short Wave Radio by listening to Morse code messages from ships at sea and foreign counties—now I had done it!
In later days, I read in the Birmingham News about the Spanish Civil War, but found nothing about a new war, for it was two years before Hitler plunged Europe into the start of World War II, and long after I knew that WAR was the call sign of the Army Headquarters Radio Station serving the War Department.
A Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Ashland got its radio communications station early in 1938. Some Rookies hunted with me and one introduced me to “Sparks,” the radio operator. He showed interest and, on learning that I had memorized the International Morse Code, showed me how to use a code practice set, which I could not afford. Before graduating from high school in May, however, I added one year to my age, made application to join the CCC, and got parental consent to be sent to Washington or Oregon. I enrolled on June 6th but was disappointed to be sent to Dadeville, Alabama, just 55 miles from home.
Ray Leach came from District “H” Headquarters in Fort Benning the next month and installed that camp’s radio station, consisting of a Hallicrafter's Short Wave receiver and a Harvey crystal-controlled transmitter.
Ray practiced code with me and arranged characters in logical order: E I S H, then A W J, R L P and U V F, to engrave the progression of the dit-beginning sounds on my brain. I could not progress to the next group until I could copy all previous groups without error, in any character grouping. I soon advanced to the “dah” beginners: T M O, N D B, K C X Y, and G Z Q, but before I could copy 5 words per minute, Ray was recalled to the Fort. He remembered my skill as a high-speed typist and after Thanksgiving, a radiogram came from Fort Benning offering me the job of Clerk to the District Communications Officer, Captain D W Philips.
Captain Philips was a World War One veteran and ex-school teacher, from Ocala, Florida. He permitted me to take all opportunities for training available at the Fort. I took courses in Teletype and Weather Observation at the Army Infantry School and was able to keep pace with the CCC class in Morse Code and Radio Theory, soon testing out at 19 words per minute.
In January, 1939, Capt. Philips was transferred to Fort McPherson to equip all CCC camps in District “B” with radio communications. He took his staff along and six months later, we were completing 41 radio stations in camps extending from Key West, Florida to Asheville, North Carolina.
I made the last installation in a Forestry Service Camp in Aquone, NC, and stayed as its operator six weeks until a graduate from the school was available. Aquone did not show on my road map, but a student at the Fort told me, “It’s my home place, in the Great Smoky Mountains, where nigh onto 60 folks live. If you’ns go west from Franklin, its 21 miles, but if you’ns go east from Andrews, it is only 13 miles of dirt road, both ways.”
The camp’s mountainside location was scenic. A large spring higher on the mountain supplied the camp with enough over flow to send a rippling brook coursing by the barracks. Faucets were never turned off. The radio room and operator’s quarters occupied a 16x24-foot barracks, near one of the four fifty-foot antenna poles. We had to build a hut for the Onan Generator Captain Philips promised to send from the Fort, as there was no commercial electricity available, and the camp’s generators were only run a short time in evening and pre-dawn hours.
The mountains were wonderful and I liked staying as the camp’s radio operator, even though I knew Captain Philips was going to send the first operator available, so I could return to his staff. The desire to stay put was partly due to the 16-year-old Indian-looking barefoot lass I met the first weekend, when I walked down to Aquone, which had a blacksmith shop, a newly-built board-and-battened Post Office and a General Store with a gas pump out front. She was sitting on the old cabless Ford truck stopped in front of the General Store, but she hopped down and walked over to the blacksmith shop with me. When her Pa called, I went with her. We rode on the flatbed as Pa drove past the Post Office as if to cross the Nantahala River on the plank bridge, but he turned left on the river bank and drove nearly a half-mile along wagon tracks over the weeded field to a creek that flowed into the river.
I thought we would ford the creek, but Pa shifted into low gear, drove into the stream, then turned sharply to the left and drove up the creek bed for about a furlong, then drove out onto the bank where there was an opening in the forest.
There stood an old log cabin and by then I knew that the lass had lived winters with her Aunt in Andrews until she graduated from the 11-grade high school. Now, she was home with Ma, Pa, and a younger sister. She was lonely and the Baptist Church was the only place where she met other folks, so I agreed to go there with her the next day.
I remember the Preacher well. Said he’d come from Georgia, where he was milking a cow when the Lord called him to preach. His sermon dwelt on the awfulness of Hell and how The Bible predicted things at the end of time that had already come to pass, so that any morning now, Gabriel would blow his horn. The lass just smiled sweetly and later told me that she’d already been saved when she was baptized in the cold waters of the Nantahala.
When we went to church that first day, we were joined by Chuck Fish, a Junior Forester from Camp. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the lass, and I was pleased when she told him I’d walk her home. Her mother invited me to Sunday dinner. Pa said Grace: “Oh Lord, bless this food and us’uns what eat it, ‘specially the young’uns, and daughter’s friend Wo who’s come ‘mongst us’uns. We’uns be thankful. Amen.”
Ma asked about my “growing-up days” in Alabama. She wanted to know about my parents, and was especially interested in my mother, who’d been blind since I was 12. She marveled that “a-body blind” could do all the things I said my mother did. I told them how it happened that I was born in a log cabin, the second of three children, all born by the time my mother was 20 years old. When I said that my father was 20 and my mother was 15 when they married, the lass exclaimed: “I’m 16. Already an old maid!”
“I can fix that!” I said, trying to be funny and not intending to voice my first marriage proposal.
Monday, Captain Philips agreed by radio that I should call in at 9 AM to handle any traffic on hand, and again at 3:30 PM. At other times, if the Camp CO had a message to send sooner, he’d have to get the Camps’ motor-generator running and I could break-in on the HQ station, WUGA, to send the message. The Camp CO was pleased.
Five days a week, I carried a blanket roll, got the Camp cook to pack a picnic lunch for two in a basket and by 11 o’clock, joined with the lass to go fish trout streams, climb mountains, go canoeing, or on weekends, hike up to Wayah Bauld. Ma’s parting words were, “Yo’unses be good.”
I heard her say that many times, and the lass always obeyed. One Sunday, I invited her to take dinner at the Camp. When the CO came into the mess hall and saw the lass, he walked over and said, “Please come and bring this lovely young lady to eat at my table with my wife and LT Wilson and his wife!” As always the lass was at ease and carried her end of the talking well, admiring others who talked of travel in far places, and readily admitting that she had never been out of North Carolina, or farther from home than when her high school class went to Asheville.
The next morning the CO came to the Radio Room and said suddenly, “Sparks, you have a beautiful young lady. It’s easy to see that you are in love and she adores you. What are your plans?”
His question took me by surprise. Marriage would result in my discharge from the CCC. I admitted to a strong desire to marry the lass and take her away, but said it would be impossible because I had no way of earning a living. He said he suspected as much and offered me the job of Company Clerk, which he’d try to get made a Civilian Employee Associate position, then I’d be free to marry. I said if he could do that, I’d do both jobs, Clerk and Radio Operator, but I felt obliged to ask Captain Philips for his approval and the CO said that was the right thing to do.
The CO showed a fatherly interest in me, maybe because he was childless. He owned a large farm in Louisiana and would have lost it in the Depression had he not been called to duty as a CO of CCC camps. He’d saved money, and soon was going to please his wife by going back to live amid their Cajun relatives.
After that, I had trouble sleeping. No doubt I loved the mountains, the mountain folks and the lass, but could I forget my ambitions and my parent’s wishes for me and be happy living out my life as a mountain man? Only 18 years old, but I knew that I had to make some important, long-lasting decisions. I stayed in camp all day Friday, waiting for Captain Philip’s response to my letter in which I had requested he approve my transfer to Aquone. It came in the evening mail call.
I was buoyant when I saw the lass Saturday morning, and in Ma’s presence, I told her that I had plans to discuss. She said she wanted to take me to a place I had never been and led the way through the woods, up to a land bench that jutted out from the mountainside. She walked out on the flat ground that ended in a steep drop.
“Spread your blanket here and tell me about your plan,” she said.
I unfolded an official letter, marked “Personal & Confidential” and signed by Capt. D. W. Philips. I read aloud, “I read your personal letter dated July 14th with great interest, and forthwith went to my quarters, broke out my portable typewriter and am responding as your friend and your Commanding Officer:
“1) No, I cannot let you stay in Aquone as Radio Operator. I know that the CO thinks you are a smart fellow and shows a great interest in you. I know too that you can leave the CCC anytime you want to, and then do as you like, if you can afford it. Be honest with yourself, you can’t!
“2) I need you here as Chief Radio Operator. Moreover, I expect to be successful in getting a Civil Service rating for the Chief’s position.
“3) Of great interest to you, I’m sure, I have arranged so that you can take up to 4 hours a day to study Radio Engineering at Georgia Tech., if you will do the Chief’s paperwork in your off-hours.”
“It is signed by Captain Philips. This is a great opportunity!”
The lass looked at me and asked, “Is that your plan for us?”
I felt the hurt in her voice. “I didn’t explain and I’m sorry! The promotion makes it possible for me to ask you to marry me. As Chief, I will make twice my present pay and can marry. In two weeks, we can be married and living in Atlanta.”
“By now you ought to know that I will marry you—but I won’t live in Atlanta. Look around!” She led me to the very edge of the precipice.
“Look,” she said, “in this forest about 200 feet above us is a great spring with the best water in Aquone. Down there, about 900 feet below, is the Nantahala River. To the right and to the left, as far as you can see, is the Nantahala Valley. God made no other place on earth like this one, and it is mine. When I was only 10 years old, Pa gave this land to me and promised that someday he’d build a cabin here on this land bench for me and my husband to live in and raise our family. Pa owns all the private land this side of the river, up to the ridge topping this mountain. Everybody else sold out to the Nantahala National Forest, but Pa would not sell. His land was handed down, from his great-great-grandpa’s Cherokee wife. Pa will never sell it. Every winter he cuts down a few large trees and snakes them out of the forest with a yoke of oxen. The trees are over one hundred years old. The timber is used to make furniture. He only sells enough for our spending money during the year, usually about three or four hundred dollars. It’s our cash crop and the standing forest is our only bank account. There’s a whole forest of black walnut trees in the valley, and a grove of black cherry that my grandpa planted. The tall dead trees on the mountainside are chestnut. All the chestnut got a disease and died. There won’t be any more, and the dead trees can stand 50 or 100 years before they’ll rot down. Pa is going to wait 10 years before he logs out the first chestnut tree. By then, the lumber will sell for a high price. Ever since I first laid eyes on you, I thought that you were the man who would live here with me. I thought you loved me, the mountains, the mountain folk!”
I insisted that I loved her more than anything else, but she said she was beginning to understand her Ma’s caution, that I was too ambitious to ever settle down in Aquone. “I thought she was wrong. You saw the beauty of the mountains, went to our church, ate our homegrown food, learned our ways, and lived our simple life many hours every day. I thought you’d never let our happiness end.”
“True, I did all those things because I love you. I didn’t know about your forestland, and I never dreamed you could have all the money you need just by cutting down a few trees. You know I grew up on a farm. I love my parents, my home, the land we farmed and my friends, but when I was 17, I left it all, because I thought I could do better somewhere else. Now, that I’m offered a better position in Atlanta, I want you to share the good life with me.”
She was quiet and said nothing as we stood looking at the green forest and blue river below, and I pondered the great chasm between us. I now understood her strength—if we were to be together, I was the one who must change.
Finally she spoke. “I never brought you to this land bench before today. It’s a sacred place for my forebears and now me, where no evil can occur. I bring you here today, to make sure you know my love, My spirit is yours and you can have me today and every day that you come to this sacred place. Let’s lie on the blanket.” She pressed against me, as she had never done before.
The lass was often in my dreams and flashes across my mind, even now. But the next Christmas Eve, she married Chuck Fish, by which time I had been Chief Radio Operator at WUGA. All of Captain Philips’ promises came true, but I was restless and when what appeared to be an opportunity arose, I took advantage of it.
One day a Coast Guard officer came to the fort’s Casual Mess. Lunsford, one of my radio operators and from Brunswick, Georgia, knew the Coast Guard and invited the officer to eat at our table, where he introduced us as radio operators and me as the chief. The officer said that the Coast Guard was looking for men like us. After lunch, he came to the station and Lunsford took him around, showing him the school, tech. shop, and operators handling traffic. He seemed impressed and after he left, Lunsford said, “You know, the best radio operators in the world are in the Coast Guard. We ought to see if we can make the grade.”
Captain Philips and I regarded Lunsford as our best operator, and we were about to lose him to the Army Signal Corps, where he had been offered a specialist’s rating, so I said, “Why not?”
The next Saturday I went with Lunsford to the Federal Building in Atlanta, where we found a long line that filled the hallway leading to the Coast Guard recruiting office. We had been at the end of the line only a few minutes when the officer we’d met came by, recognized us, and marched us into the office. All he had to say was, “Captain, these men are radio operators!”
He put us ahead of all other applicants. After asking a few questions, the Captain told the officer to have us fill out the usual application forms and see that we got our physical exams. Darned if Lunsford wasn’t 11 pounds underweight, but at 6’3”, weighing 189, I was just right.
It took a week to convince my parents to sign my papers. Mr. Hudgins, the recruiting officer, said Captain Philips’ letter was the best recommendation he’d ever read.
I was sworn in at 4:40 PM on October 23, 1939, and five minutes later was advanced to Seaman First Class and issued a travel voucher for the overnight train ride to Norfolk. I had never seen a Pullman Berth, so I approached indecent exposure tenderly by loosening my tie and taking off my coat and shoes.
Duty in the Coast Guard
The train stopped in Portsmouth the next morning and I had to cross the James River to Norfolk on a ferry. It was the biggest body of water I’d ever seen. Standing in the bow, I was mighty pleased when waves from tugs passing by didn’t make me seasick.
In Norfolk District Office everyone wore civvies. A Yeoman called Princess Anne Radio Station and soon a medium-sized man came to get me. He wore the most gold braid I’d ever seen, said his name was Si Kissachy, a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian. (I never told him about my Creek Indian grandmother).
As he drove his new Chevrolet, he asked me a lot of questions, and called me “Ochiltree,” even though he had my papers, where the spelling was clearly “Ogletree.”
In Berkley, we boarded the Coast Guard Cutter SEBAGO to get my seabag. He took me below to ship’s Small Store, where a young clerk waited on us, and Si was very kind to him. When the young fellow asked me something, I just answered him, till Si spoke sharply to me: “Curtesize the Officer with ‘Sir.’”
“Yes Sir-r-r!” I said.
“No, not me, damn it—the Officer” Well, I knew right then that I had a lot to learn—officers resembled clothing-store clerks, and Chief Radiomen with gold hash marks for 16 years of good behavior looked like Admirals—and like I’d read about enlistees in the French Foreign Legion, I had a new name, ‘Ochiltree’!
Princess Anne Radio Station
The next morning, Si introduced me to the six student-operators, called Strikers, and to the Radiomen on duty, then he brought in the Duty List and explained that since I was the newest Striker, I was given the least desirable 6-hour watch, beginning at midnight, under training by Radioman First Class Omohundro, whereupon a snicker went up from the other Strikers who later said they were sorry for me.
In the early afternoon, after Omohundro got up and gave me a code test, he tapped out, “You can send and receive, now I’ll see if I can make a Radioman of you. First though, your sign will be WO. Do you understand?
I said, “Yes sir!”.
And he asked, “Yes sir, what?”
“Yes sir, WO is me.” That got a bit of laughter, but not from OM.
That night, OM said the floor needed waxing, and told me where the supplies were stored. I waxed the floor until a teletype message came from the District Office for the Cutter BIBB. OM wrote down the call procedure and told me to send the message. I sent NRDB NRDB NRDB V NMN NMN NMN AR and got no answer. OM said, “Try again. This time just sign NMN once and tell the BIBB you have a message. Do you know how?”
“You mean ZMA?”
“No, ZMA1. You have one message. Also tell him to answer on FD. He probably answered on FS.”
I sent the message but was unhappy because my fist was jerky.
“Oh, you’ll get used to it,” OM said, then he handed me a large book. “This is the Coast Guard Communications Instructions & Regulations. You must know its contents before you can be a Radioman.”
Every night, when not polishing brass, waxing floors, making coffee and sandwiches or handling traffic, I pored over that tome and also memorized the call signs of the Cutters, Coast Guard District Headquarters, and the meaning of all Z signals used by the Coast Guard, from ZAA to ZZZ.
After a week, I was pleased to think that OM trusted me. He went over to the galley for his mug-up. Soon, I heard a hissing signal in one earphone—a spark transmitter on the International Distress Frequency, which we always guarded. I typed in my log, SOS SOS SOS DE WFAT. I felt a chill and my heart pounded. This was a real SOS, and I could not tune in the signal so that it was loud and clear. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to copy the message. Just then, OM dashed into the room, put on his headphones, sounded the Station Alarm and turned on the low frequency transmitter’s plate voltage as the ship reported gale force winds and a deck cargo of lumber, shifted so that the ship was in danger of capsizing. Before the message ended, off-duty Radiomen in their skivvies were at the Direction Finder, Teletype and the third operator’s position.
The emergency ended nearly six hours later, with the Cutter SEBAGO standing by and radioing that the storm had abated enough for the ship’s crew to correct the heavy list to port by jettisoning the deck cargo, and the ship was no longer in danger.
When we left radio watch, OM reminded everyone, “The logs show that WO copied the SOS first, and got the Distress Message solid!”
On the path to the galley, I asked OM how he happened to return at just the right moment. He said he’d piped the output from the 500 kcs receiver over to the galley speaker before leaving me alone. I felt a letdown, but said, “I’m glad you did, because I was some worried! I’m used to copying strong CW signals, not cat-hissing sounds.”
“Cat-hissing sounds are made by spark transmitters,” OM said. “I have a lot of respect for that machine and for the wireless operators that use it. They are the real pioneers in this profession.” He called wireless telegraphy a profession. I’d heard it called a good job, but OM was himself a professional, working in his profession.
Radioman 3rd Class Test
Si found us off-duty Strikers sitting around in the Rec. Room reading magazines and playing cards. He was furious. “You men are never going to make Radioman Third Class, playing cards and reading trash!” He returned with an armload of books, “Here, read these.” He handed out copies of the book, which I had studied under OM’s supervision. I thumbed through it for a while, then went back to my story in The Saturday Evening Post.
An hour later, Si returned and challenged me in a loud voice: “Ochiltree, do you know everything in this book?”
I said, “Probably not, Chief, but I read through it.”
“All right men, write me a message, from the Commandant, action ComNorDist, Information ComNorPat, maintain radio silence BIBB, Princess Anne relay to DIONE, 72 words.”
As he spoke, I wrote the message heading, with proper signals and call signs and handed it to him. None of the other Strikers could do it. He asked several questions that I could answer, then called the two First Class Radiomen and told them to give me a Third Class exam. After they told Si I had answered all their questions correctly, he left the station.
The next morning as we were eating breakfast, Si arrived and announced, “Yesterday, I went to see Mr. Bralliers—he’s District Communications Officer—and told him, ‘I have a Striker who is a good radio operator and knows everything in the Radio Communications Instructions after reading it for one hour.’ Ochiltree, he said to send you down to take the Third Class exam. I know you can pass it, and I don’t know anyone who made Third Class Radioman quicker than you will. Next week, I’m sending you and Herrin, who’s been Striker the longest, down for your exams.”
The two-day exam at District Headquarters was severe. The USCG numbered only about ten thousand men. Many Seaman First Class had been trying to make a rating for years, and Si’s greasing of the ways for us ended when we faced the examiners.
The Morse code was no problem for either of us. I had no trouble with the Communications Procedures and Regulations. My Radio Theory was strong, but I was weak on specific Coast Guard radio equipment. There were a lot of common-sense questions, and a surprising litany of current-event questions. At one time I was asked to trace the chain of command from the Commandant to myself.
“The Commandant is Rear Admiral R. R. Waesche, ComNorDist is Captain Crapster, the Norfolk District Communications Officer is Lieutenant Braillier, then this examining panel—I’m sorry we were not introduced, so I don’t know your names and rank—then me.” My recognition of the panel as very much in control of my destiny and therefore in the chain of command seemed to amuse them.
The third morning, an officer came in and gave each of us a chance to reconsider some wrong answers and to explain the thinking back of our bad answers.
Before he gave the correct answers, he said, “Wrong answers don’t make good Coast Guardsmen.” He said there was a slight flaw in my answer on the chain of command. When I looked puzzled, he said, “I’ll give you a clue. One man in the chain is away and someone is acting in his place.”
“Captain Crapster is in the hospital!” (I remembered hearing someone comment on his condition.)
“Fine! He said, and who is Acting ComNorDist?”
When I guessed, “Mr. Braillier,” he beamed and I knew that I was talking to the man himself.
Herrin received orders to go aboard the Cutter McLANE, to be rated on the skipper’s recommendation. I was transferred to the 165-foot Cutter DIONE as Radioman Third Class, a week before the end of my first month in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Oten C Covington, Radioman-in-Charge on the DIONE, unceremoniously gave me the watch schedule, but the skipper, Mr. Greeley, was apprehensive and questioned me during my first watch at sea. “Ogletree, how often do you shave?”
“About once a week, sir.”
“How old are you, really?”
“You don’t look 18. You know the Radioman has more responsibility than the captain of the ship, sometimes. He’s the eyes and ears of the Coast Guard. Many peoples’ lives depend on him. I think you should stand watch under one of our older Radiomen for a few patrols, until you prove that you can handle the duty.”
“Sir, I am a competent radio operator. I’ve never been to sea before, but in this radio room I know what to do. I passed the exam for Radioman, and I am qualified to stand my own watch.”
The Skipper locked eyes with me briefly, then said, “Very well, we’ll see.”
In the afternoon two days later, I was on watch when an NCU (general call for any Coast Guard Unit, often sent in emergencies) was sent on the International Distress Frequency. I waited a moment, expecting another Cutter or Norfolk Coast Guard Radio (NMN) to answer, but when I didn’t hear a response, I hit the switch which caused the Emergency Alarm to sound in the Captain’s cabin, in the Radiomen’s quarters, and on the bridge, then answered the NCU. It was a ship bound from New York to Corpus Christi, with a stowaway on board, requesting the Coast Guard to remove him from their ship, east of Chesapeake Lightship. The Captain looked at the message as I received it, typing it in the radio log.
“Tell him we are proceeding from off Cape Henry! What is the name
of his ship?”
I reached for the Bern List, a registry of ships’ names and call signs, but the skipper said, “No, ask the operator.”
The skipper stared intently as I typed WW O8F34099O with my fingers on the wrong keys.
“What the hell’s that?” he asked. I requested the ship to repeat his ship’s name. The operator showed disgust by sending very slowly so that Mr. Greely, with his head beside my earphone and without looking at my typewriter, announced, “He said, ‘SS Liverpool’” and dashed out.
When we rendezvoused, a whaleboat was sent over to get the stowaway, then the DIONE went into Hampton Roads, where a U.S. Marshal waited to take custody of the man. Mr. Greeley’s picture and a brief article on the incident appeared in the Norfolk Virginia Pilot. He was pleased and later commended me on my alertness, but I was furious with myself for goofing on the ship’s name. Right then I vowed that I would never again let an officer get me so rattled that I could not perform within my capability.
A maritime practice required by law was to cease transmitting on all frequencies and listen on 500 kcs during the 3-minute Silent Period, which began at 15 and at 45 minutes after the hour. A vessel in distress had the best chance of being heard by sending the Automatic Alarm Signal during the Silent Period, followed by the distress message. Ships without an operator on duty at all times were required to have an Automatic Alarm that would sound to wake the operator when it received four consecutive four-second dashes out of the twelve sent, each separated by a one-second silent interval between dashes. After the Automatic Alarm sequence, the vessel in distress would send SOS a few times, its call sign, then the message giving its position and describing its distress, all done on 500 kcs. Normally after a Silent Period, ships and shore stations would call on 500 kcs to establish communications, then shift to another frequency to send and receive messages.
Immediately after the Silent Period, the frequency would become a jungle of signals, when suddenly the frequency went quiet except for a plain-text message being sent. Remembering Covington’s standing rule: “Any time plain-text is heard on 500, don’t wait to see what the message is—sound the Emergency Alarm.” I sounded the alarm. The Skipper was soon standing beside me in his pajamas as I sat wondering what to do with the message fragment I had copied: “. . . FOUND YOUR PANTS IN BETTYS ROOM STOP HOW COME SIGNED JIM.”
I copied all traffic into my log, whether or not it related to the DIONE. When the quarterly ratings were posted, I had a surprising 3.90 (out of 4) in “Proficiency.” Mumsford and Roth, the other RM3c good-naturedly admitted that they were better Radiomen, as well as my seniors, and complained to Covington, who said, “You don’t read the log. I do, and the Captain gets the carbon copy. Your logs are full of ‘NO SIGS.’ WO’s log almost never has a ‘NO SIG’ entry. Sometimes I wonder if he’s writing fiction, but the Captain reads the radio logs at breakfast and passes them around the Wardroom—it’s their morning newspaper.”
I quickly earned recognition as a competent Radioman, but if I had been graded on seamanship, I would have scored a zero, as I proved on several occasions. The DIONE did Neutrality Patrol, requiring us to keep two Coast Guardsmen on the Pilot Ships at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. Whenever a vessel from a country at war was entering the bay, a Coast Guardsman had to accompany the pilot, check the destination and cargo manifest, and seal the radio equipment so that transmissions could not be made inside the 3-mile limit of U.S. jurisdiction.
One morning during a hard rain, the whaleboat returned to the DIONE. Chief Boatswains Mate Abernathy piped “All hands on deck. Man the falls!” I was just coming off watch and dashed out to give a hand to the men hauling on a 1-inch hawser, running forward with it, to lift the whaleboat and its occupants to the top of the davits. I took hold of the line between Warrant Boatswain Cosgrove and the davits—my first mistake. When the call, “Up behind!” came and was repeated, I looked around and strained all the harder, because everybody else had dropped the line, and I was the only person holding up the whaleboat. Mr. Cosgrove came charging down the deck with the line in hand, shouting, “Up Behind!” He ran past me ‘til slack in the line paid out, then he fell to the deck and spun around on the seat of his pants.
“Drop the damn line!” he shouted. Then I knew exactly what to do.
Later that day, Mr. Wilson, the oldest Warrant Officer on the Cutter—maybe the oldest in the Coast Guard—came to the radio room and told me to go with him. He took me to the boat davits and said, “Son, I want to explain to you what happens here. When a boat is lowered, all hands are not needed; in fact, two men can do the job by leaving one turn on these cleats on the fore and aft davits, and paying out the line gradually. When we’re hauling it up, we need all hands, divided between the two lines that are carried forward, one on the port side and the other on the starboard. When the pulleys are at the top, two-blocked we say, the man at each davit pinches his line against the cleat and gets ready to make it fast by taking a turn around it. He can do that as soon as the men hauling on the line let go, so he calls out “Up Behind!”
“Thank you for explaining this to me, Sir. I am wondering if I will be court-martialled?”
“Court-martialed! Of course not. You have something that can be fixed—it’s youth and ignorance. I want you to study The Bluejacket’s Manual and, when we start drilling for the whaleboat races, I want you in my boat.” That kind man later painstakingly taught me to be a strong oarsman and good boat handler—skills very useful in years to come.
One night I heard XXX MEDICO, sent on 500 kcs by an ocean liner. I promptly answered and was told to shift to one of the commercial operating frequencies. The operator had a great fist and sent his message at a fast speed. A passenger on board had appendicitis—the liner was bound for Europe and wanted the Coast Guard to take the man ashore to a hospital. Captain Greeley told me to compose a formal message to the Master, saying that the DIONE was proceeding from the Virginia Capes and estimated rendezvous in two hours. The DIONE got underway and got up to full speed quickly. I sent a message to District Headquarters reporting our mission. A few minutes later, an operator on the MENDOTA called and asked me to shift to a seldom-used Coast Guard frequency. I did, and copied the following message: “PLEASE REPEAT THE XXX MEDICO X IT WAS TOO FAST FOR ME TO COPY.” I recognized his “fist” and repeated the message. A few minutes later a message came from ComNorPat, ordering the DIONE to return to patrol—the MENDOTA would carry out the mission.
Captain Greeley was furious: “We are the ones awake and doing the work. The MENDOTA has to ask for the message, then takes over to get the credit, even though the mission is going to take them an hour longer.”
“Can’t you radio ComNorPat that the DIONE will do this mission an hour quicker?” I asked.
“I wish I could, but Captain Yeandal is the senior seagoing Commander in all the Coast Guard—nobody afloat outranks him—he is skipper of the MENDOTA and when she’s at sea, he is ComNorPat.”
Shortly thereafter, Covington was transferred, to be promoted to Chief, I heard. Perry came aboard from the MODOC as Radioman-in-Charge. He was a very good operator and a Ham. He had been through a Summary Courts-Martial and showed me the records. He said that an officer, a Mr. S, who held a grudge against him, had come into the radio room and ripped the log out of his typewriter, claiming that Perry had filled the log ahead of time with false entries and had been asleep on watch. Perry started a new log and put the officer on Report for removing the original log from the radio room, a violation of regulations. That got him nowhere, but on Mr. S’s charge, he was given a Summary.
Perry was able to prove that Mr. S would make an error of up to 4 minutes in reading the radio room clock from where he was standing, because of parallax. He also proved the validity of some entries Mr. S claimed were false because the call signs were not in the Bern List. Perry produced a certified copy of the log from a sister Cutter, showing the call signs in question, and some entries with the times in agreement with Perry’s log. He beat the charges, but wisely requested a transfer.
The first day of our next patrol, I was summoned to Captain Greeley’s stateroom where he said his wife might be going to the hospital to have a baby at any time. If word came while we were at sea, he wanted me to keep his message requesting a 10-day emergency leave, already prepared and signed except for the date and time. Upon receipt of that message, I was then to send his message to District Headquarters, and stay on watch, doing whatever I could to get a prompt answer. He said I should say nothing about this to anyone, and I resolved to stay in the radio room when not eating or sleeping.
Two nights later, I was sitting at the second operator’s position when NMN called and relayed a telegram from the Red Cross, that Mrs. Greeley was being taken to the U.S. Marine Hospital. I receipted for it, typing it on regular message form, and immediately sent the Captain’s message to NMN, requesting OM, whose fist I recognized, to give it a rush handling. Meanwhile, the DIONE had left patrol and was steaming toward Little Creek. In less than ten minutes, Mr. Greeley received his emergency leave.
Early in my days on the DIONE, we had two Radiomen who smoked cigarettes and drank coffee while on watch. Roth and I would find one or more mugs with cigarette butts soaking in leftover coffee. We’d ask the man leaving to clean up his mess, and he would for Roth, but not usually for me—I would dispose of the filth in various ways.
One morning after taking the watch at 0400, I began my clean-up routine.
Mr. McCormick, our XO, came to the door of the radio room. “Radioman Ogletree, as I was going aft, an item of ship’s property almost hit me as it was fired overboard from this direction. Are you perchance making yourself liable to court-martial by destroying ship’s property?”
“Sir, I deep-sixed an old cracked mug, of no earthly use to officer or man on this ship.”
He laughed, then said solemnly, “Watch it, sailor.”
When I told Charlie Roth what had happened, he grew serious and predicted Mr. McCormick’s wartime performance: “He’s a dangerous man—looking for something extraordinary that he can do.” Mr. McCormick adopted silent stalking of U-boats and sank at least one.
I often sought Roth’s advice. He knew the Coast Guard up and down, having been in government service 22 years. He was born on the high seas to immigrating Jewish parents. His first hitch was in the Navy, where he was a welterweight boxing champ. Then he joined the Coast Guard and over the years, yo-yoed from one rating to another. At the height of his career in Prohibition days, he was Chief Warrant Officer, in charge of a high-speed patrol boat that chased rumrunners. One night he was beat up by some of them in a Charleston nightclub. After they threw him into the alley, he made his way to his boat, got a Colt .45, went back to the club, shot up the place and scared the thugs into apologizing, and the other patrons into apoplexy.
At his General Court Martial, he was defended by the best lawyer money could buy, so he did not go to prison or get booted out of the Coast Guard, but he was broken to Apprentice Seaman. When his hitch ended, he went to work for the Social Security Agency, which was getting started. But the sea was in his blood, and after a few years, reenlisted as an Apprentice Seaman. Now, two years later, he was RM3c. He was always kind to me. Perhaps because when the Cutter was in port, he never had to stand a radio watch, while I was on the DIONE—I would take the duty so that he could go home to his young wife and baby.
Perry had been aboard a few weeks when orders came, transferring me to the MENDOTA. I hated to leave the DIONE, but I knew the operators on the MENDOTA because our ships were often in port at the same time, and while transmission was prohibited in port, one Cutter had to maintain radio guard, listening and keeping a log, as if at sea. When more than one Cutter was in port, radio guard would rotate daily among the vessels, with each one sending over a Radioman for one or more watches each day. I only went ashore for a haircut, to buy a book, or see a special movie, so I voluntarily took most of DIONE’s radio duties in port.
When I did go ashore, I would walk from Berkeley, pay a one-cent toll to cross the bridge, then walk up East Main Street to the business district of Norfolk, on Granby. There were several houses where a lot of girls lived on East Main Street. Sometimes they would tap on the windows with a coin and wave to me as I walked by. I wrote to my parents about the friendly Virginians before I learned East Main Street was Norfolk’s red-light district.
On the MENDOTA, I learned that the ship had been equipped with a new screw and we were to take a shakedown cruise to New Orleans, then tow a ship back to Norfolk. If all went well, we would then go to Greenland, to be the communications center for the American Consulate, established in Gothaab to prevent the Germans from capturing Greenland’s cryolite mines. On the shakedown cruise, there was too much vibration, and the speed was below expectations, so the MENDOTA was scheduled to go back into dry-dock.
Returned to DIONE
When we docked in Berkeley, orders for my transfer back to the DIONE were waiting. I was welcomed back. Captain Greeley said, “I registered a strong objection with the District Communications Officer over your transfer.”
Later, Perry told me that he too had gone to see Mr. Brallier, who asked, “Why all the fuss over a Third Class Radioman?”
Perry said, “I told him, ‘there are 3 other Radiomen on the DIONE. You take them and let me keep Ogletree. He and I will give you the best radio room in the District.’”
Naturally, I was pleased.
At first I had been too busy, trying to adjust to shipboard life and duties, to write to anyone but my parents, occasionally to Captain Philips, and to Mr. Spearman, my high school principal. After hearing of a Radioman’s conquest at Lake Ponchartrain (while I was taking his radio watches), I decided to write to Margaret, a tall classmate from high school I had admired. When we returned to port after the next patrol, a long letter from her was waiting. She said my letter was the most interesting she had ever read and wished I had written long ago. Right now, she was planning to marry one of our high school teachers.
I wanted to go home, so I applied for a 30-day leave. In a few minutes, the Yeoman brought my application back, rejected by Mr. McCormick, Acting CO, because I had less than one year of service. I looked in the Coast Guard Regulations, which made it clear that anyone with my record was entitled to 30 days leave each year, and if not taken during the year, it was lost. I went to the ship’s office and cited the regulations to Mr. McCormick, chapter and verse.
“You are nothing but a damn rubber sock—do you know what that means? A ‘boot’! The most leave a boot can get is 10 days. Request that and I’ll approve it.”
“Ten days makes no sense. It takes me two days to go home, two to come back. Six days is too short. Under regulations I am eligible for 30 days leave.”
“You come in here, a damn boot, telling me what regulations say. I’ll have you on report for insubordination. And tomorrow morning get your ass on a Bosun’s Chair over the side and help the deck hands chip paint.”
“Tomorrow morning I’ll be at the District Communications Office, requesting a transfer to any other ship in the Coast Guard,” I said, and left in a hurry.
While that heated exchange was going on, Yeoman Parkman, standing out of Mr. McCormick’s vision, kept motioning for me to calm down. A short time after I left the office, Parkman came to the radio room and poked a sheet of paper at me. “Here, sign this.”
It was a request for 30-days leave, already approved by Mr. McCormick. When I asked how the change came about, he said, “Don’t ask.”
Later that evening, Mr. McCormick came to the radio room. In the best of spirits, he asked, “Is that better?”
“Yes sir. Thank you very much.” I could not understand that capable, mercurial officer, an enlisted man before going to the Coast Guard Academy, who’d finally made LT(jg) after too many years as Ensign.
S O S
As usual, I had the receivers turned on. Weak, long continuous signals were coming from one of the speakers. “Somebody’s tuning up his transmitter,” I thought, then I glanced at the clock. SILENT PERIOD! I immediately sat down at the operating position, put on headphones and tried to tune in the weak signal on 500 kcs. As the Silent Period ended, NMN blasted my ears with a string of QRTs because an Auto Alarm had been sent. NMN’s signal blanked out the weak distress signal, but in the brief pauses between words, I heard the faint SOS. When NMN quit sending, the weak signal was just barely readable because NAM (Norfolk Naval Radio Station) was sending traffic on its working frequency. Due to poor selectivity of the receiver and proximity to the station, NAMs signals made reception of the distress message nearly impossible. With careful tuning, I copied fragments of the message from a Greek freighter that was sinking somewhere off Cape Hatteras in stormy seas. The operator and all hands were abandoning ship.
I assumed that the distress message had been copied by a Cutter or ship in a better reception area; but when I heard NMN calling CQ (all ships and stations) to ask if anyone had copied the distress message and received only negative responses, I walked over to the MENDOTA, which had the radio guard that day. Wood, the operator on watch, saw the fragments I had copied, he immediately telephoned District Headquarters and read them my copy, which was soon broadcast by NMN to all ships and stations. By morning, two Cutters were searching the seas east of Hatteras, and a Coast Guard plane was being sent from Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station.
The duty officer at District Headquarters telephoned the DIONE in the early morning hours and wanted to know if there was anything more I could tell him, possibly something I had not written down. I did not tell him that NMN’s QRTs had made it impossible to copy the opening part of the message that would contain the ship’s call sign and position, but I did say that interference from NAM had made the weak signal nearly unreadable. He seemed to pick up on that and asked if I was sure of what I had copied. I was sure.
“Do you have any idea why no one else heard the distress message?”
“That’s not true—NMN heard the Auto Alarm. You’d have to ask the Radioman why he couldn’t copy the rest of the message.”
He said he might call me later. I told him I was going on 30-days leave; he suggested I delay my departure.
“This is a mess—he doesn’t believe me” I thought.
Later that morning, Captain Greeley came aboard and got involved when an officer from the MENDOTA came over to talk to me, being concerned about sending Cutters on what seemed to be a wild-goose chase, especially since I was the only one to copy the message fragments. Captain Greeley spoke up, “You are talking to the best Radioman in this District, that’s why. On the strength of his copy, I’ll put my ship to sea today and search for survivors, if that’s what is needed.” Then he turned to me: ”You’ve been on leave since midnight, why are you still here?”
I boarded a Greyhound bus late that evening and thought about what Captain Greeley said on my behalf. It was July, 1940. I was 19-years-old and had been in the Coast Guard eight months. I thought doing a good job would always be recognized and rewarded.
At a bus stop in North Carolina the next morning, I bought a newspaper. Debris and an empty life raft had been found in the wreckage of a Greek freighter off Cape Hatteras and the Coast Guard was searching for possible survivors. I later learned that four men were rescued and several bodies were found. I thought the results would have been better if I had been able to copy the entire message.
While on leave I went over to Atlanta one day with a friend and called Captain Philips from downtown. We had a pleasant meeting. He, too, believed that in a short time, the U.S. would be drawn into the European War and expected to be recalled to the Army Signal Corps, for radio intelligence—he hoped.
When I arrived home that evening, there was a telegram waiting for me: “RETURN AT ONCE FOR TRANSFER TO LIGHTSHIP. GREELEY.” The Lighthouse Service had been made a part of the Coast Guard earlier in the year.
On the Greyhound bus the next two days, I had time to think that Mr. McCormick got his way—I’ll have only 10-days leave, but maybe he’ll think I requested transfer to a lightship. Much later, it occurred to me that he may have known what was in store for me when he would only approve a ten-day leave.
It was 0500 when I arrived on board the DIONE. I was still in the radio room, packing my books into 4 seabags when Mr. Greeley came in.
“Well, you’re leaving us again.”
“Yes sir, I think I’d prefer duty on the MENDOTA, but I’ll make the best of the lightship duty.”
He smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t think you’ll be on a lightship.”
I took my orders to Norfolk District Office and was told to wait. Chief Yeoman Ulman came and whispered in my ear, “You’re going to be working for the FBI, but don’t tell anybody I told you.”
That misinformation lessened my puzzlement later, when Mr. Brallier spent four hours behind closed doors, questioning me. After getting my life’s history, as well as my father’s, mother’s, and grandparents’, and information on my teachers and friends, he said, “We are going to use you as a guinea pig. If you do well, it will be to your credit. If you can’t do the job, it will not hurt your record, because no one below Radioman First Class has ever had such an assignment. You will have to keep your work secret. You can’t tell your parents, girl friend, or anyone about your work. You must wear civilian clothes, live in a good neighborhood, and from now on you don’t have any shipmates. You can’t even know your old shipmates.”
He took me to a two-story penthouse on top of a building in Norfolk. The man that cracked open the door recognized Mr. Brallier, who said, “This is Ogletree. I leave him in your hands.” Turning to me, he said, “This is Russell. He’s in charge. Good luck.”
As I entered, I saw that Russell wore a Colt .45 in a side holster. “A job requirement,” he said. “You will be issued your own. Your past is of no interest to me—your future is. In the next month, you will be my sidekick here. I’ll tell you the important things I have learned in 16 years of radio intercept work in Naval Intelligence. I read and understand over 20 languages; presently I’m taking a Berlitz course in Japanese, but I can’t copy their telegraphic code. Your mind is young and flexible; I want you to give a try at copying it, preferably in Katakana, but Romaji will do. If you master that, your berth here is secure.
It was a difficult undertaking, made worse because in copying International Morse Code, my fingers seemed to be attached to my ears, bypassing my brain. I could read a book, or carry on a conversation and copy Morse code simultaneously, comprehending both. When I heard “di dah” it was difficult to write “I” in Romaji, not “A” in International Morse, and “dah di di dit” was “HA,” not “B”, etc. “Yokohama” was 4 characters, which my fingers wanted to write as M OT [4 dashes] B X. I stopped using the typewriter and resorted to writing Katakana with a stick (pencil). After two weeks, Russell said that he was satisfied with my progress and began assigning work to me. I requested the midnight to eight AM duty, to which Russell readily agreed.
During the day, I attended Maury High School as a post-graduate student, taking Plane and Solid Geometry, Trigonometry, two Algebra courses, and Physics. I had a class every bell between 9 AM and 3 PM.
The normal procedure for establishing communications and receipting for messages was not followed in intercepts I made, beginning in March, 1941. First, a date-time group, then a word count was sent, like 25/0310 (pause) W27 (pause), BT (meaning a break between message parts), (pause), MFDA CHMU OJKE (etc., until 27 code groups of 4 letters each were sent,) then a pause, followed by AL K.
No response was heard. The transmission was not fast, perhaps 18 words per minute, but the cadence and characters were perfect, I thought from a punched paper tape on an automatic keyer. I measured the operating frequency carefully, made a note of it and left a receiver tuned to it.
As I did every day, I sent by Registered Mail my log marked “SECRET” to the Chief of Naval Intelligence under three covers, as it went via two mail drops. I also left a note to Russell to keep the receiver tuned as it was and have other operators listen for strange messages on that frequency.
The next night, I found notes reading “No Sigs” attached to the receiver, but I again heard signals and copied a W44 (44 words) message. The procedure was the same as before, Later, I found similar signals on another frequency. It was baffling. I would leave Russell a message not to disturb the two receivers as tuned and to tell other operators to listen for messages. Always, “No Sigs” notes were left. One morning, at the end of the message I heard, Kyü, followed by AL K. The Ü (with umlaut) was definitely German. I suspected that I was intercepting German messages, but I was puzzled by the “K,” not “D,” which I knew to be the first letter of German call signs. While it was still dark that morning, I copied similar transmissions on a third frequency. Still, the following night there were “NO Sigs” notes left on the three receivers.
I was really puzzled about the messages, which I still thought were automatic transmissions, such as fixed stations used in high-speed point-to-point communications, only these were low-speed. I was copying a message when a mistake occurred and the operator got rattled. He sent the usual error signal (usually 8 Es), then repeated the last two correctly sent groups and continued, but he had lost his rhythm.
Immediately I labeled him “Hun” and began paying close attention to the fists of every operator I heard. I was able to distinguish between the fists of two others that morning and gave each of them a name.
By the next morning, I had sketched a fact-tree showing what I had learned: (a) Transmissions only occur midnight to about 5 AM; (b) Manual transmissions; (c) German operators?; (d) Transmission on these frequencies can not reach Norfolk from European waters. Conclusion: Messages are coming from German submarines communicating with each other and operating in coastal waters near Norfolk.
In my report that morning, I wrote that I had copied the following messages sent from German U-boats operating off the Virginia Coast. I included copies of all messages that I had received and stated that at least three different radio operators had been copied, thus I assumed at least three U-boats were in coastal waters. Before mailing the report, I reviewed it and almost did not send it—it appeared so bombastic. Then I mailed it.
Two days later when I dropped schoolbooks at my apartment, Russell and two men in civvies were there, waiting for me. “Wo, hop in the car and come with us. These gentlemen are Navy Officers, from Washington. They want to talk to you.”
Russell drove out of town, toward Virginia Beach, while the officers asked me a lot of questions. At first, they seemed to be skeptical. By the time Russell parked the car on the beach near Princess Anne Radio Station, they were talking about a program to monitor my three frequencies, as well as two others they knew the Germans used, and to take direction finder bearings on the transmissions. Two of the messages I’d copied contained a serial number in the heading that they said indicated a shore station origin and they talked about equipping Russell’s group to search for and pinpoint the sources of any spy transmitters. Operating on the Virginia Coast. They asked Russell who would head up the program, saying “Wo? He’s so damn young.”
Russell spoke my mind when he said, “I think Wo is most valuable doing just what he’s doing. Besides, he’s got a backbreaking school program. It would be a shame to interrupt it. Our old timers have not met him and know him only as ‘O.’ I’ll get everyone together tomorrow, tell them what’s up and let Wo tell them everything he knows or guesses.”
That’s what happened. For the first time, this student met a barber, an electrician, an auto mechanic, a radio repairman, a pilot who owned his plane, a World War One veteran who lived on his schooner, and a church minister. All of them were seasoned intelligence men. Soon, a driver came with a converted Greyhound bus, equipped with its own power plant, the latest in receivers, direction finders, and a transmitter. Some of our operators received untraceable auto license plates and special identification, including IDs as U.S. Marshals. I never heard what they did, just that the program was successful.
After World War Two, I read of the pre-war capture of a spy on the New Jersey coast who communicated with U-boats from a radio transceiver in a foot locker, and of a “controlled spy” who sent and received messages from his room in the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach. I like to think that the spy capture and the controlled spy were works directed by Russell.
That spring, I took the competitive exam for entrance to the Coast Guard Academy. It was Mr. Brallier’s idea. Neither of us expected me to gain academy acceptance, but he said that the experience would help me in the next year, when I expected to be ready for the exam. I scored a low passing grade, too far down for acceptance. I completed the courses at Maury High, with As in the two Algebra courses, Plane Geometry, Solid Geometry, and Physics. I received a B in Trigonometry. Miss Hamlet said although I made an A on the final exam, a B was generous, because my grade for the first quarter was only 27.
Before my academy exam, Mr. Brallier was transferred to the West Coast as Commanding Officer of a Cutter. His parting favor was to have Russell detach me to the communications center, where I could get to be known by the District Officers.
Mr. Diehl transferred in as the new Communications Officer. Soon, his agenda seemed not to include me, and if true, I gave him the chance he was looking for by getting into an argument via teletype with an old Chief at the Navy Radio Station (NAM).
A Coast Guardsman was being sent on a Navy assignment. The message related to relocation of his family. “HHE” meant “householdeffects,” in the Communications Instructions then used by the Coast Guard and Navy. I wrote it out as one word in the teletype message from ComNorDist. The Chief at NAM sent me a service message, to make it three words. I argued with him that I was following The Book. When I would not yield, he pulled seniority and wrote that he was a Chief with 14 years of naval service. I responded with what that meant to me, a four-letter word that started with S. He said he was changing my message and making a report of the difficulty he had with me. I responded that I would expect as much of a dumb Chief who did not know his own Navy Communications Instructions.
On Saturday, I went into the office and the Radioman on duty told me to get out, because Chief Warrant Radioman Arlington, who served under Mr. Diehl, was gunning for me. Later in the day, I went out to Princess Anne Radio Station to go swimming in the surf. As I entered the grounds, CWR Arlington was coming out. I greeted him and said that I understood he was gunning for me. He acted surprise, then remembered, “Oh, on Monday, Mr. Diehl wants to see you about your dispute with that Navy Chief.”
On Monday, I worked the midnight watch, then stayed at the office until Mr. Diehl arrived. He told me that I was in the wrong, completely. The Chief was right—CWR Arlington agreed—and I had no reason to argue with him. I asked if I could show him Regulations on that matter: Householdeffects was written as one word in the book. Mr. Diehl lost some wind, but the CWR inspired him anew with my S-word and my insubordinate response to a Navy Chief. He sounded like I’d insulted the highest of the holy.
When the meeting ended, I knew I would soon be out of the communications center. I went to see Russell, who telephoned a request for my return to his unit. It was refused, because just one hour earlier, orders had been cut to transfer me to the Cutter HAMILTON as soon as she arrived in port.
“I take the blame for this fiasco,” Russell said. “When Mr. Brallier was leaving, I should have requested your return to this unit. Here, listen to this from the Chief of Naval Intelligence: ‘. . . I commend the intercept work and Report thereon by Operator “O.” It exemplifies the best in fieldwork. . ..’ In all my years, I never saw a letter like this. It should be in your personnel file, but it is classified TOP SECRET. Nobody but men in this unit knows it exists. Mr. Diehl must have TOP SECRET clearance. I’ll show it to him. Maybe it’ll convince him to cancel your transfer to the HAMILTON and sent you back here instead.”
“Russ, Mr. Diehl’s mind is set. He’s the kind of man that’s not going to admit something he’s done could be improved on, or is a mistake. If somebody at CNI thinks I am of value in Intelligence, duty on the HAMILTON will be short. Actually, some sea duty will be a welcome change from office politics.”
Russell then lamented, “You are the only man I know who has been clocked copying 48 wpm of unfamiliar scientific text sent in Morse, and no one left in this unit can even copy Jap code, much less in Katakana at 12 wpm—plenty fast for Jap shipboard transmissions. You’re inquisitive too—a natural for this work. I don’t want to lose you.”
“I’ll do intercept work during off-watch hours. I know the reporting channels. If you agree, I’ll report as though still in this unit. The HAMILTON stays between the Azores and Portugal, or Bermuda and the Azores, for one month each patrol, sending in weather reports and being base station for the PanAm Clippers. I will be in excellent position to intercept transmissions from U-boats in transit from Europe.”
Russ agreed, but added that he still hoped CNI would pull me in.
 V was the communications
operating prosign meaning “this is” or “from”, used in the U.S.
military at that time; however, the maritime navies used “DE”.
 The “Fox” CG frequency
assignments; FU was 4200 kcs, FU2 represented the 2nd harmonic
(8400 kcs), FU3, etc.
 500 kcs on the medium frequency
band; ‘kcs’ is used throughout to designate frequency in Kilocycles when
the time period was before the change to ‘KHz’ to honour Hertz;
afterwards, ‘KHz’ is used.
 Bound in a green cover, at least
in the 1950s, its title in French contained the word ‘appelation’
(name), and was thus called the ‘Green Apple’.
 The Urgent Signal is meant for
all ships and shore stations to indicate an imminent but not immediate danger to loss of life and/or to a ship.
 U.S. Public Health Service
hospitals (Marine Hospitals) were located near major ports and served the
U.S. and foreign maritime shipping near U.S. water, and USCG personnel and
their dependents. The time period in this story is well before the Uniformed
Services Act, which then permitted USCG personnel to use any U.S. military
facility—medical as well as commissary and PX.
 A communications operating signal
meaning, Stop Sending! Usually used with Distress or Urgent situations.
Return To Coast Guard Stories