By Don Gardner

Back in the days of CW the author tells how...l..

From a “boot” Radioman to becoming an experienced watchstander didn’t take long in Bermuda. Traffic flowed fairly heavily between the Fifth District at Norfolk and Air Station Bermuda, from routine movement reports, weather observations we stole from the ‘merchies,’ and administrative messages, to message to rebroadcast SOS messages following an automatic alarm.


On the nights we had to scramble an aircraft for an intercept with LT Defreest as patrol plane commander, I loved sending ‘Defreest’ by CW. Norfolk would always ask for a repeat of that name because of the many ‘dits’ in it. A Dutch ship I loved to copy OBS message from was the SS EEMDYJK. Norfolk had trouble copying that, too.


It could get damn exciting at times; other times the watch routine could be extremely boring, and it was those periods when things went wrong.


One evening RMC Lane had the OOD watch and mentioned that we needed a copy of an ALCOAST or ALDIST message. I pointed out we could get a copy from Norfolk Radio by asking. Lane also wanted to check out our tape recorder, which we had just received and were using to record the night Search and Rescue drills between our aircraft and the standby SAR Cutter.


“’Don, tell them to put it on their tape machine and send it at 45 wpm’.


‘OK, Chief’. The operator at Norfolk seemed to be proficient, so I sent a brief service message to him with this request; he said he would call back later. We figured he had to type the message on tape to run through the keyer first, which would take about five minutes. While sending to Norfolk, I used my hand key and sent fairly slowly, lulling Norfolk into thinking he was going to run me off the air.


‘Chief, Norfolk is calling!’ Lane put the tape machine to record on fast speed and gave me the sign.


Norfolk explained the keyer was broken and said he would send it on his ‘bug’. We said OK. What the hell, we would play it back on slow speed anyway—neither Lane nor myself bothered to try to type the message as it was transmitted.


A few minutes of high-speed code followed and at the end, I reached over to the hand key and ‘rogered’ for the message at my best slow speed. ‘Wow’, the operator sent.


Lane and I played the recorder and copied the message except for one part, which Norfolk had fumbled over and we couldn’t make out. Regrettably I had to ask Norfolk to repeat those two words, blowing my image I thought.



By the time RM2 Paul Nusbaum came to Bermuda, my wife had returned to Boston to take care of her parents who were sick; I was due to rotate back to the states within a month or so and it wouldn’t be too hard for us to separate briefly. Barracks living wasn’t that bad according to the standards of those days. I mean, our barracks had been condemned before the Coast Guard came to Bermuda, but about everything the Coast Guard had had been condemned by the Navy anyway. One of our PBMs was spotted by a Navy flier once, who said he had flown it during WW II.


Paul was a unique individual. He could stand a midwatch, have 48 hours off for liberty, then stay up the entire two days without getting any sleep. Me? I was worn out after a mid.


Many nights Paul and I would ride into Hamilton, me on the pillion seat, and eat ice cream after an evening watch. Paul could not waste time sleeping. I left Bermuda and said goodbye to Paul, never dreaming of seeing him again.


I worked him on a CG circuit months later from San Diego when the conditions were right. Several years later I had orders to CG Headquarters and wrote Paul, who now lived in Baltimore. My orders were delayed however and would have been cancelled except that Malcolm Simmons in the communications centre knew me when I was at Norfolk Radio, fresh from Radio School, and got my orders delayed for a few months rather than cancelled outright.


Eventually my wife and I and our new son arrived at Arlington where Malcolm had an apartment all ready reserved for us. We settled in rapidly and I called Paul in Baltimore to let him know I had arrived. Paul advised he had called Headquarters a few months before and someone had told him there was an RM1 Donald Gardner at the Radio Station in Arlington. Paul drove out there from Baltimore and was stopped at the gate, where he told them he came to visit Don Gardner.


In a few minutes ambling up to the gate came a figure who asked Paul what he wanted with him.


‘Who are you?” Paul asked.


‘Don Gardner’ was the reply.


Paul shook his head and left, wondering about the names.


I explained it all to him. My orders had been delayed—and there was an RM1 Don Gardner at Arlington!


The same thing happened when I went to the GRESHAM and an RMC from the district office came to Alameda to meet me. I told him there was a person with the same name and rate who was from Florida, but I think he got out.


My wife and I went to Baltimore to visit Paul and his wife one Sunday. Paul was really into checkers and beat my butt each time. I really appreciated the aggressive way he began each game by putting a checker where I could jump, but Paul would then jump that one plus several more—usually beating me in record time.


Just before my wife and I were leaving, Paul reminisced about Bermuda. ‘Don, when I went to Bermuda I wanted to meet you especially. You see, one night you asked me to send you a long message on the automatic keyer but I had to send it on my ‘bug’. You copied that message so easily and the neat way you “rogered” for it was impressive.’


‘Uh, Paul, remember that tape recorder in the radio room?’ I confessed it all to Paul. As they say in the CIA, I blew my cover.


Paul was unimpressed.


Return to Coast Guard Stories